Against memory systems

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2002 Aug 29;357(1424):1111-21. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2002.1110.


The medial temporal lobe is indispensable for normal memory processing in both human and non-human primates, as is shown by the fact that large lesions in it produce a severe impairment in the acquisition of new memories. The widely accepted inference from this observation is that the medial temporal cortex, including the hippocampal, entorhinal and perirhinal cortex, contains a memory system or multiple memory systems, which are specialized for the acquisition and storage of memories. Nevertheless, there are some strong arguments against this idea: medial temporal lesions produce amnesia by disconnecting the entire temporal cortex from neuromodulatory afferents arising in the brainstem and basal forebrain, not by removing cortex; the temporal cortex is essential for perception as well as for memory; and response properties of temporal cortical neurons make it impossible that some kinds of memory trace could be stored in the temporal lobe. All cortex is plastic, and it is possible that the same rules of plasticity apply to all cortical areas; therefore, memory traces are stored in widespread cortical areas rather than in a specialized memory system restricted to the temporal lobe. Among these areas, the prefrontal cortex has an important role in learning and memory, but is best understood as an area with no specialization of function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amnesia / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology