Virtual reality (VR) and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging were used to study memory for the spatial context of controlled but lifelike events. Subjects received a set of objects from two different people in two different places within a VR environment. Memory for the objects, and for where and from whom they were received was tested by putting the subject back into a place in the company of a person and giving a paired forced choice of objects. In four conditions objects had to be chosen according to different criteria: which was received in that place, which was received from that person, which object was recognized, and which object was widest. Event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging was performed during testing to identify areas involved in retrieval of the spatial context of an event. A network of areas was identified consisting of a temporoparietal pathway running between the precuneus and parahippocampi via retrosplenial cortex and the parieto-occipital sulcus, left hippocampus, bilateral posterior parietal, dorsolateral, ventrolateral and anterior prefrontal cortices, and the anterior cingulate. Of these areas the parahippocampal, right posterior parietal, and posteriodorsal medial parietal areas were specifically involved in retrieval of spatial context compared to retrieval of nonspatial context. The posterior activations are consistent with a model of long-term storage of allocentric representations in medial temporal regions with translation to body-centered and head-centered representations computed in right posterior parietal cortex and buffered in the temporoparietal pathway so as to provide an imageable representation in the precuneus. Prefrontal activations are consistent with strategic retrieval processes, including those required to overcome the interference between the highly similar events.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.