Extrahippocampal contributions to age differences in human spatial navigation

Cereb Cortex. 2007 Jun;17(6):1274-82. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhl036. Epub 2006 Jul 20.


The hippocampus (HC) and associated neural structures are hypothesized to contribute to individual differences in human spatial navigation. However, functional imaging studies and theoretical models underscore the importance of extrahippocampal regions as well. The purpose of the present study was to examine age differences in virtual environment navigation and to assess possible relationships between navigation and structural integrity of hippocampal and extrahippocampal brain regions. Healthy adult volunteers completed a virtual navigation task and underwent magnetic resonance imaging to assess volumes of the caudate nucleus (CN), cerebellum, HC, prefrontal, and primary visual cortices. Results demonstrated robust age-related differences in place learning. Moreover, individual differences in regional brain volumes as well as performance on the tests of memory and executive functions contributed to age differences in human place learning. High performance in a virtual navigation task was associated with larger volume of the CN and prefrontal gray and white matter. Larger hippocampal volume was associated with improved performance in the young but not old participants. We conclude that human navigation requires both hippocampal and extrahippocampal brain systems and draws on executive resources for successful performance.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Caudate Nucleus / anatomy & histology
  • Caudate Nucleus / physiology
  • Cerebellum / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Memory / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • User-Computer Interface
  • Visual Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology