Dr Muireann Irish


Senior Research Officer

+612 9399 1602

Dr Muireann Irish is a Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales, and a conjoint Senior Research Officer based at Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney. Originally from Ireland, Muireann completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology (1st Class Honours), a Graduate Diploma in Statistics (Distinction), and a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin. She relocated to Australia and completed a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship in the FRONTIER group at Neuroscience Research Australia (2010-2013). Muireann was awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) in 2013 to continue her research into the cognitive neuroscience of memory and imagination.

Muireann has a longstanding interest in how complex cognitive processes such as memory, imagination, and social cognition are disrupted in dementia syndromes. Her current research focuses on the cognitive and neural mechanisms which underpin these impairments, with a view to developing interventions that can ultimately improve quality of life for individuals living with dementia and their families.

The quality of Muireann’s research has been recognized in a series of awards including a NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Award (2014), the Laird Cermak Award for Outstanding Research in Memory presented by the International Neuropsychological Society (2013), and a L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship (2015).

Muireann is happy to discuss potential Honours, Masters, and PhD projects with interested students. Contact: m.irish@neura.edu.au.


Preservation of episodic memory in semantic dementia: The importance of regions beyond the medial temporal lobes.

Irish M, Bunk S, Tu S, Kamminga J, Hodges JR, Hornberger M, Piguet O

Episodic memory impairment represents one of the hallmark clinical features of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) attributable to the degeneration of medial temporal and parietal regions of the brain. In contrast, a somewhat paradoxical profile of relatively intact episodic memory, particularly for non-verbal material, is observed in semantic dementia (SD), despite marked atrophy of the hippocampus. This retrospective study investigated the neural substrates of episodic memory retrieval in 20 patients with a diagnosis of SD and 21 disease-matched cases of AD and compared their performance to that of 35 age- and education-matched healthy older Controls. Participants completed the Rey Complex Figure and the memory subscale of the Addenbrooke's Cognitive Examination-Revised as indices of visual and verbal episodic recall, respectively. Relative to Controls, AD patients showed compromised memory performance on both visual and verbal memory tasks. In contrast, memory deficits in SD were modality-specific occurring exclusively on the verbal task. Controlling for semantic processing ameliorated these deficits in SD, while memory impairments persisted in AD. Voxel-based morphometry analyses revealed significant overlap in the neural correlates of verbal episodic memory in AD and SD with predominantly anteromedial regions, including the bilateral hippocampus, strongly implicated. Controlling for semantic processing negated this effect in SD, however, a distributed network of frontal, medial temporal, and parietal regions was implicated in AD. Our study corroborates the view that episodic memory deficits in SD arise very largely as a consequence of the conceptual loading of traditional tasks. We propose that the functional integrity of frontal and parietal regions enables new learning to occur in SD in the face of significant hippocampal and anteromedial temporal lobe pathology, underscoring the inherent complexity of the episodic memory circuitry.