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Development of the declarative memory system in the human brain


Brain regions that are involved in memory formation, particularly medial temporal lobe (MTL) structures and lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), have been identified in adults, but not in children. We investigated the development of brain regions involved in memory formation in 49 children and adults (ages 8–24), who studied scenes during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Recognition memory for vividly recollected scenes improved with age. There was greater activation for subsequently remembered scenes than there was for forgotten scenes in MTL and PFC regions. These activations increased with age in specific PFC, but not in MTL, regions. PFC, but not MTL, activations correlated with developmental gains in memory for details of experiences. Voxel-based morphometry indicated that gray matter volume in PFC, but not in MTL, regions reduced with age. These results suggest that PFC regions that are important for the formation of detailed memories for experiences have a prolonged maturational trajectory.

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Figure 1: Recognition memory for scenes improved significantly with age, specifically for recollection (R) and not familiarity (K) indices.
Figure 2: Subsequent memory activations (R > F) across all 49 participants, ages 8–24 years.
Figure 3: Activation associated with successful memory formation increased with age in PFC, but not MTL, ROIs across age.
Figure 4: Activations associated with successful memory formation (R > F) for children, adolescents and young adults.
Figure 5: Subsequent memory effects and gray matter concentrations in children, adolescents and young adults.


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We thank N. Gaab, T. Hedden, D. Palti and S. Corkin for helpful discussions, J. Motsinger and N. Rubinstein for help with data collection and analysis, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This work was supported by the US National Institute of Mental Health (J.D.E.G).

Author information




N.O., Y.-C.K. and J.D.E.G. designed the experiments. N.O., Y.-C.K., P.S.-H., H.K. and S.W.-G. collected and analyzed the data. N.O., S.W.-G. and J.D.E.G. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Noa Ofen.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ofen, N., Kao, YC., Sokol-Hessner, P. et al. Development of the declarative memory system in the human brain. Nat Neurosci 10, 1198–1205 (2007).

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