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J Neurosci. 2007 Jun 6;27(23):6141-9.

Where am I now? Distinct roles for parahippocampal and retrosplenial cortices in place recognition.

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  • 1Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6241, USA.


A key component of spatial navigation is the ability to use visual information to ascertain where one is located and how one is oriented in the world. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural correlates of this phenomenon in humans. Subjects were scanned while retrieving different kinds of topographical and nontopographical information in response to visual scenes. In the three critical conditions, they viewed images of a familiar college campus, and reported either the location of the place depicted in the image (location task), the compass direction that the camera was facing when the image was taken (orientation task), or whether the location was on campus or not (familiarity task). Our analyses focused on the retrosplenial cortex (RSC)/parietal-occipital sulcus region and the parahippocampal place area (PPA), which previous studies indicate play a critical role in place recognition. RSC activity depended on the type of information retrieved, with the strongest response in the location task. In contrast, PPA activity did not depend on the retrieval task. Additional analyses revealed a strong effect of familiarity in RSC but not in the PPA, with the former region responding much more strongly to images of the familiar campus than to images of an unfamiliar campus. These results suggest that the PPA and RSC play distinct but complementary roles in place recognition. In particular, the PPA may primarily support perception of the immediate scene, whereas RSC may support memory retrieval mechanisms that allow the scene to be localized within the broader spatial environment.

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