Memory for famous faces can be used to examine the neural systems underlying retrieval from long-term memory. To date, there have been a limited number of functional neuroimaging investigations examining famous face recognition. In this study, we compared recognition of famous faces to recognition of newly learned faces. Whole-brain, event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to image regional changes in neural activity in 11 subjects during the encoding of unfamiliar faces and during familiarity judgments for: (1) newly learned faces, (2) unfamiliar face distractors, and (3) famous faces. Image analyses were restricted to correct recognition trials. Recognition accuracy and response time to famous and recently learned faces were equivalent. Recognition of famous faces was associated with a widespread network of bilateral brain activations involving the prefrontal, lateral temporal, and mesial temporal (hippocampal and parahippocampal regions) regions compared to recognition of recently encoded faces or unfamiliar faces seen for the first time. Findings are discussed in relation to current proposals concerning the neural regions thought to participate in long-term memory retrieval and, more specifically, in relation to retrieval of information from the person identity semantic system.
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