Navigation expertise and the human hippocampus: a structural brain imaging analysis

Hippocampus. 2003;13(2):250-9. doi: 10.1002/hipo.10087.


Grey matter volume in the posterior hippocampus of London taxi drivers is greater than in age-matched controls, and the size of this increase correlates positively with time spent taxi driving (E.A. Maguire et al., 2000. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97: 4398-4403). This change suggests that increased posterior hippocampal grey matter volume is acquired in response to increased taxi driving experience, perhaps reflecting their detailed representation of the city. However, an alternate hypothesis is that the difference in hippocampal volume is instead associated with innate navigational expertise, leading to an increased likelihood of becoming a taxi driver. To investigate this possibility, we used structural brain imaging and voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to examine a group of subjects who were not taxi drivers. Despite this group showing a wide range of navigational expertise, there was no association between expertise and posterior hippocampal grey matter volume (or, indeed, grey matter volume throughout the brain). This failure to find an association between hippocampal volume and navigational expertise thus suggests that structural differences in the human hippocampus reflect the detail and/or duration of use of the spatial representation acquired, and not innate navigational expertise per se.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Automobile Driving
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Verbal Learning / physiology