Functional neuroanatomy of remote episodic, semantic and spatial memory: a unified account based on multiple trace theory

J Anat. 2005 Jul;207(1):35-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2005.00421.x.


We review lesion and neuroimaging evidence on the role of the hippocampus, and other structures, in retention and retrieval of recent and remote memories. We examine episodic, semantic and spatial memory, and show that important distinctions exist among different types of these memories and the structures that mediate them. We argue that retention and retrieval of detailed, vivid autobiographical memories depend on the hippocampal system no matter how long ago they were acquired. Semantic memories, on the other hand, benefit from hippocampal contribution for some time before they can be retrieved independently of the hippocampus. Even semantic memories, however, can have episodic elements associated with them that continue to depend on the hippocampus. Likewise, we distinguish between experientially detailed spatial memories (akin to episodic memory) and more schematic memories (akin to semantic memory) that are sufficient for navigation but not for re-experiencing the environment in which they were acquired. Like their episodic and semantic counterparts, the former type of spatial memory is dependent on the hippocampus no matter how long ago it was acquired, whereas the latter can survive independently of the hippocampus and is represented in extra-hippocampal structures. In short, the evidence reviewed suggests strongly that the function of the hippocampus (and possibly that of related limbic structures) is to help encode, retain, and retrieve experiences, no matter how long ago the events comprising the experience occurred, and no matter whether the memories are episodic or spatial. We conclude that the evidence favours a multiple trace theory (MTT) of memory over two other models: (1) traditional consolidation models which posit that the hippocampus is a time-limited memory structure for all forms of memory; and (2) versions of cognitive map theory which posit that the hippocampus is needed for representing all forms of allocentric space in memory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amnesia / physiopathology
  • Diencephalon / physiology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Semantics
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology