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Learn Mem. 2007 Sep 6;14(9):625-33. Print 2007 Sep.

Overcoming interference: an fMRI investigation of pattern separation in the medial temporal lobe.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA.


The medial temporal lobe (MTL) supports the formation and retrieval of long-term declarative memories, or memories for facts and everyday events. One challenge posed for this type of memory stems from the highly overlapping nature of common episodes. Within cognitive psychology, it is widely accepted that interference between information learned at different times is a major limitation on memory. In spite of several decades of intense research in the fields of interference theory and the neurobiological underpinnings of declarative memory, there is little direct evidence bearing on how the MTL resolves this interference to form accurate memories of everyday facts and events. Computational models of MTL function have proposed a mechanism in which the MTL, specifically the hippocampus, performs pattern separation, whereby overlapping representations are made less similar. However, there is little evidence bearing on how this process is carried out in the intact human MTL. Using high-resolution fMRI, we conducted a set of experiments that taxed behavioral pattern separation by using highly similar, interfering stimuli in a modified continuous recognition task. Regions within the parahippocampal gyrus demonstrated activity consistent with a "recall to reject" strategy. In contrast and critical to performing the task, activity within the hippocampus distinguished between correctly identified true stimulus repetitions, correctly rejected presentations of similar lure stimuli, and false alarms to similar lures. These data support the computational models' assertion that the hippocampus plays a key role in pattern separation.

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