Varying demands for cognitive control reveals shared neural processes supporting semantic and episodic memory retrieval

Deniz Vatansever*, Jonathan Smallwood, Elizabeth Jefferies

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The categorisation of long-term memory into semantic and episodic systems has been an influential catalyst for research on human memory organisation. However, the impact of variable cognitive control demands on this classical distinction remains to be elucidated. Across two independent experiments, here we directly compare neural processes for the controlled versus automatic retrieval of semantic and episodic memory. In a multi-session functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment, we first identify a common cluster of cortical activity centred on the left inferior frontal gyrus and anterior insular cortex for the retrieval of both weakly-associated semantic and weakly-encoded episodic memory traces. In an independent large-scale individual difference study, we further reveal a common neural circuitry in which reduced functional interaction between the identified cluster and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a default mode network hub, is linked to better performance across both memory types. Our results provide evidence for shared neural processes supporting the controlled retrieval of information from functionally distinct long-term memory systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2134
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all staff at the York Neuroimaging Centre for their assistance with MRI scanning. This study was supported by the European Research Council (Project ID: 646927). Additionally, DV was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31950410541), the Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Major Project (No. 2018SHZDZX01), and ZJLab. The icons in Fig. 1 are based on resources from

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

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