Single-trial learning of novel stimuli by individual neurons of the human hippocampus-amygdala complex

Neuron. 2006 Mar 16;49(6):805-13. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2006.02.015.


The ability to distinguish novel from familiar stimuli allows nervous systems to rapidly encode significant events following even a single exposure to a stimulus. This detection of novelty is necessary for many types of learning. Neurons in the medial temporal lobe (MTL) are critically involved in the acquisition of long-term declarative memories. During a learning task, we recorded from individual MTL neurons in vivo using microwire electrodes implanted in human epilepsy surgery patients. We report here the discovery of two classes of neurons in the hippocampus and amygdala that exhibit single-trial learning: novelty and familiarity detectors, which show a selective increase in firing for new and old stimuli, respectively. The neurons retain memory for the stimulus for 24 hr. Thus, neurons in the MTL contain information sufficient for reliable novelty-familiarity discrimination and also show rapid plasticity as a result of single-trial learning.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe / pathology*
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Time Factors