DOI: 10.1002/alz.074341 ISSN: 1552-5260

Beyond the hippocampus: amygdala and memory functioning in older adults

Tess Helen Bookheimer, Aarthi S. Ganapathi, Fatima Iqbal, Jenna M Mattinson, Emily S. Popa, Ryan M. Glatt, David A. Merrill, Verna R. Porter, Susan Y. Bookheimer, Jennifer E. Bramen, Melanie G. Lampa, Mihae Kim, Austin Bookheimer, Stella E. Panos, Prabha Siddarth
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology



Medial temporal lobe atrophy has been linked to decline in neuropsychological measures of explicit memory function. While the hippocampus has long been identified as a critical structure in learning and memory processes, less is known about contributions of the amygdala to these functions. We sought to investigate the relationship between amygdala volume and memory functioning in a clinical sample of older adults.


A serial clinical sample of older adults that underwent neuropsychological assessment at an outpatient neurology clinic was selected for retrospective chart review. Patients were included in the study if they completed a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment within six months of a volumetric MRI scan. Each subject underwent scans conducted on a GE 3.0 Tesla scanner, and volumetric analyses were performed using imaging software which quantifies regional brain volumes. We used bilateral hippocampal and amygdala volumes in our analyses. Associations between these volumes and memory scores, derived from immediate and delayed recall conditions of a verbal story learning task and a nonverbal design reconstruction task [1], were examined using mixed‐effects general linear models, controlling for total intracranial volume, age, sex and education. Partial correlation coefficients, controlling for these covariates, were calculated to estimate the strength of the association between volumes and memory scores.


A total of 68 (38F, 29M) participants were included in the analyses, with a mean (SD) age of 80.1 (6.0) and educational level of 15.9 (2.5) years. Controlling for age, sex, education, and total intracranial volume, greater amygdala volumes were associated with better verbal and nonverbal memory performance (p<.001), comparable to hippocampal volume. The interaction term of hemisphere and memory was not significant for any of the models, indicating no lateralized effects. Partial correlation coefficients ranged from 0.45 to 0.31.


These findings contribute to a growing body of knowledge highlighting the amygdala as a target for further research in memory functioning through the adult lifespan, supporting a holistic understanding of limbic system operations in which multiple subcortical structures contribute synergistically to memory processes and decline in older adults.


[1] Wechsler, D. (2009). Wechsler Memory Scale fourth edition. San Antonio, TX: Pearson.

More from our Archive