Are some memory deficits unique to lesions of the mammillary bodies?

J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2001 Aug;23(4):490-501. doi: 10.1076/jcen.23.4.490.1234.


The role of the mammillary bodies in human memory is still in debate. A recent model of human amnesia proposes similar functions for the mammillary bodies and the hippocampus. But the main evidence for this model comes from animal studies using the delayed non-matching to sample paradigm. We describe a patient who developed a severe memory impairment after surgical removal of a germinoma. Postsurgical high resolution MRI revealed bilaterally shrunken mammillary bodies and an infarct of the left mammillary body. There were no other relevant lesions. Neuropsychological testing showed mildly impaired frontal lobe functions (executive functions, working memory and word fluency), almost intact learning and recognition, but severely impaired free and delayed recall. Experimental investigations revealed a reduced but preserved release of proactive interference and a pronounced impairment of recency and source judgments. We conclude that the mammillary bodies do play a prominent role in human memory, although the role differs slightly from that of the hippocampus.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amnesia / diagnosis
  • Amnesia / physiopathology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Brain Neoplasms / surgery
  • Cerebral Infarction / diagnosis
  • Cerebral Infarction / physiopathology
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Germinoma / surgery
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mammillary Bodies / physiopathology*
  • Mammillary Bodies / surgery
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis
  • Postoperative Complications / physiopathology
  • Reaction Time / physiology