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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 May 11;96(10):5884-9.

Human hippocampus associates information in memory.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University Hospital Zürich, 8091 Zürich, Switzerland.


The hippocampal formation, one of the most complex and vulnerable brain structures, is recognized as a crucial brain area subserving human long-term memory. Yet, its specific functions in memory are controversial. Recent experimental results suggest that the hippocampal contribution to human memory is limited to episodic memory, novelty detection, semantic (deep) processing of information, and spatial memory. We measured the regional cerebral blood flow by positron-emission tomography while healthy volunteers learned pairs of words with different learning strategies. These led to different forms of learning, allowing us to test the degree to which they challenge hippocampal function. Neither novelty detection nor depth of processing activated the hippocampal formation as much as semantically associating the primarily unrelated words in memory. This is compelling evidence for another function of the human hippocampal formation in memory: establishing semantic associations.

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