Although substantial evidence suggests that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) implements processes that are critical for accurate episodic memory judgments, the specific roles of different PFC subregions remain unclear. Here, we used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to distinguish between prefrontal activity related to operations that (1) influence processing of retrieval cues based on current task demands, or (2) are involved in monitoring the outputs of retrieval. Fourteen participants studied auditory words spoken by a male or female speaker and completed memory tests in which the stimuli were unstudied foil words and studied words spoken by either the same speaker at study, or the alternate speaker. On “general” test trials, participants were to determine whether each word was studied, regardless of the voice of the speaker, whereas on “specific” test trials, participants were to additionally distinguish between studied words that were spoken in the same voice or a different voice at study. Thus, on specific test trials, participants were explicitly required to attend to voice information in order to evaluate each test item. Anterior (right BA 10), dorsolateral prefrontal (right BA 46), and inferior frontal (bilateral BA 47/12) regions were more active during specific than during general trials. Activation in anterior and dorsolateral PFC was enhanced during specific test trials even in response to unstudied items, suggesting that activation in these regions was related to the differential processing of retrieval cues in the two tasks. In contrast, differences between specific and general test trials in inferior frontal regions (bilateral BA 47/12) were seen only for studied items, suggesting a role for these regions in post-retrieval monitoring processes. Results from this study are consistent with the idea that different PFC subregions implement distinct, but complementary processes that collectively support accurate episodic memory judgments.
Dissociable Correlates of Two Classes of Retrieval Processing in Prefrontal Cortex