Acquisition of new learning is challenged by the phenomenon of proactive interference (PI), which occurs when previous learning disrupts later learning. Whereas human neuroimaging studies have focused on the cortical contributions to interference resolution, animal studies demonstrate that efficient resolution of PI depends on cholinergic modulation from basal forebrain (BF). Whether the BF promotes PI resolution in humans is unknown. Here, we adapted a PI paradigm from animal studies for use in a functional MRI experiment. During PI resolution, neurologically intact subjects recruited a BF network that included afferent anterior and posterior cortical sites associated with efficient memory acquisition and perceptual processing. Despite normal performance, nonamnesic patients with alcoholism, which is known to disrupt BF function, did not activate a BF network but instead invoked anterior cortical sites traditionally associated with executive function. These results provide evidence for parallel neural systems, each with the potential to resolve interference in the face of competing information.
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