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The hippocampus, space, and viewpoints in episodic memory

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A computational model of how single neurons in and around the rat hippocampus support spatial navigation is reviewed. The extension of this model, to include the retrieval from human long-term memory of spatial scenes and the spatial context of events is discussed. The model explores the link between spatial and mnemonic functions by supposing that retrieval of spatial information from long-term storage requires the imposition of a particular viewpoint. It is consistent with data relating to representational hemispatial neglect and the involvement of the mammillary bodies, anterior thalamus, and hippocampal formation in supporting both episodic recall and the representation of head direction. Some recent behavioural, neuropsychological, and functional neuroimaging experiments are reviewed, in which virtual reality is used to allow controlled study of navigation and memory for events set within a rich large-scale spatial context. These studies provide convergent evidence that the human hippocampus is involved in both tasks, with some lateralization of function (navigation on the right and episodic memory on the left). A further experiment indicates hippocampal involvement in retrieval of spatial information from a shifted viewpoint. I speculate that the hippocampal role in episodic recollection relates to its ability to represent a viewpoint moving within a spatial framework.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University College London, London, UK

Publication date: October 1, 2002


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