Impaired context reversal learning, but not cue reversal learning, in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment

Einat Levy-Gigi, Oguz Kelemen, Mark A. Gluck, Szabolcs Kéri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Scopus citations


It has been proposed that reversal learning is impaired following damage to the orbitofrontal and ventromedial frontal cortex (OFC/VMFC) and to the medial temporal lobe (MTL), including the hippocampal formation. However, the exact characteristics of the MTL-associated reversal learning deficit are not known. To investigate this issue, we assessed 30 newly diagnosed patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) and 30 matched healthy controls. All patients fulfilled the aMCI criteria of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and underwent head magnetic resonance imaging that confirmed MTL atrophy. Reversal learning was assessed using a novel reinforcement learning task. Participants first acquired and then reversed stimulus-outcome associations based on negative and positive feedback (losing and gaining points). Stimuli consisted of a cue (geometric shapes) and a spatial context (background color or pattern). Neuropsychological assessment included tasks related to the MTL (paired associates learning), dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) (extradimensional shift, One-touch Stockings of Cambridge), and OFC/VMFC (Holiday Apartment Task). Results revealed that, relative to controls, patients with aMCI exhibited a marked reversal learning deficit, which was highly selective for the reversal of context. The acquisition of stimulus-outcome associations and cue reversal learning were spared. Performance on the context reversal learning task significantly correlated with the right hippocampal volume. In addition, patients with aMCI had deficits on tests related to DLPFC but not to OFC/VMFC. However, DLPFC dysfunctions were not associated with context reversal learning. These results suggest that MTL deficits in aMCI selectively affect context reversal learning when OFC/VMFC functions are spared. This deficit is not influenced by the valence of the outcome (positive or negative feedback) and by executive dysfunctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3320-3326
Number of pages7
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Amnestic mild cognitive impairment
  • Context
  • Hippocampus
  • Medial temporal lobe
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Reversal learning

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