Journal of Neuropsychology

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Plasticity versus chronicity: Stable performance on category fluency 40 years post‐onset

What is the long‐term trajectory of semantic memory deficits in patients who have suffered structural brain damage? Memory is, per definition, a changing faculty. The traditional view is that after an initial recovery period, the mature human brain has little capacity to repair or reorganize. More recently, it has been suggested that the central nervous system may be more plastic with the ability to change in neural structure, connectivity, and function. The latter observations are, however, largely based on normal learning in healthy subjects. Here, we report a patient who suffered bilateral ventro‐medial damage after presumed herpes encephalitis in 1971. He was seen regularly in the eighties, and we recently had the opportunity to re‐assess his semantic memory deficits. On semantic category fluency, he showed a very clear category‐specific deficit performing better that control data on non‐living categories and significantly worse on living items. Recent testing showed that his impairments have remained unchanged for more than 40 years. We suggest cautiousness when extrapolating the concept of brain plasticity, as observed during normal learning, to plasticity in the context of structural brain damage.

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