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Psychol Rev. 2005 Jan;112(1):75-116. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.112.1.75.

The temporal context model in spatial navigation and relational learning: toward a common explanation of medial temporal lobe function across domains.

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Department of Psychology, Syracuse University.
Department of Psychology, Program in Neuroscience, and Center for Memory and the Brain and the Brain, Boston University.


The medial temporal lobe (MTL) has been studied extensively at all levels of analysis, yet its function remains unclear. Theory regarding the cognitive function of the MTL has centered along 3 themes. Different authors have emphasized the role of the MTL in episodic recall, spatial navigation, or relational memory. Starting with the temporal context model (M. W. Howard & M. J. Kahana, 2002a), a distributed memory model that has been applied to benchmark data from episodic recall tasks, the authors propose that the entorhinal cortex supports a gradually changing representation of temporal context and the hippocampus proper enables retrieval of these contextual states. Simulation studies show this hypothesis explains the firing of place cells in the entorhinal cortex and the behavioral effects of hippocampal lesion in relational memory tasks. These results constitute a first step toward a unified computational theory of MTL function that integrates neurophysiological, neuropsychological, and cognitive findings.

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