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Cereb Cortex. 2013 Jan;23(1):80-96. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr379. Epub 2012 Jan 23.

Content representation in the human medial temporal lobe.

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Department of Psychology, Center for Learning and Memory, Institute for Neuroscience, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Current theories of medial temporal lobe (MTL) function focus on event content as an important organizational principle that differentiates MTL subregions. Perirhinal and parahippocampal cortices may play content-specific roles in memory, whereas hippocampal processing is alternately hypothesized to be content specific or content general. Despite anatomical evidence for content-specific MTL pathways, empirical data for content-based MTL subregional dissociations are mixed. Here, we combined functional magnetic resonance imaging with multiple statistical approaches to characterize MTL subregional responses to different classes of novel event content (faces, scenes, spoken words, sounds, visual words). Univariate analyses revealed that responses to novel faces and scenes were distributed across the anterior-posterior axis of MTL cortex, with face responses distributed more anteriorly than scene responses. Moreover, multivariate pattern analyses of perirhinal and parahippocampal data revealed spatially organized representational codes for multiple content classes, including nonpreferred visual and auditory stimuli. In contrast, anterior hippocampal responses were content general, with less accurate overall pattern classification relative to MTL cortex. Finally, posterior hippocampal activation patterns consistently discriminated scenes more accurately than other forms of content. Collectively, our findings indicate differential contributions of MTL subregions to event representation via a distributed code along the anterior-posterior axis of MTL that depends on the nature of event content.

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