Learning and Memory

For some time, a division between the anatomical structures involved in declarative memory and those involved in procedural memory has been proposed. Declarative memory involves the ability to learn facts or items that can be deliberately recalled; procedural learning involves the ability to master a set of procedures to perform a specific task. Procedural memory has been explored primarily in patients with degenerative diseases of the basal ganglia (i.e., Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases). Although results in the cognitive realm of procedural learning have been mixed, findings have been more consistent with motor skill learning being impaired in patients with these diseases. Nonetheless, even within the realm of motor skill learning, evidence suggests that the basal ganglia are needed more for some skills than for others.

If one reviews the literature on memory deficits in Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases, problems with declarative memory are also evident. A relatively consistent pattern emerges: Patients with these disorders demonstrate maximum deficits on memory tasks requiring recall of information, but they demonstrate normal or near normal memory performance when only recognition of information is required. Some have interpreted better recognition than recall as an indication of difficulty in retrieving information that is actually stored in long-term memory. Problems with retrieval have been linked to the influence ofbasal ganglia circuits on frontal functions; however, cortical deterioration cannot be entirely ruled out as a cause of these difficulties.

Activity in prefrontal cortex has been associated with working memory functions. Working memory refers to the ability to hold information on line in order to use it for some impending activity. Because of its connectivity to the prefrontal cortex, it has been suggested that the basal ganglia are involved in working memory. However, support for the role of the basal ganglia in working memory is equivocal and the issue deserves further attention. Gabrieli reviewed many of these issues in 1995.

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