Navigation around London by a taxi driver with bilateral hippocampal lesions

Brain. 2006 Nov;129(Pt 11):2894-907. doi: 10.1093/brain/awl286.


The time-scale of hippocampal involvement in supporting episodic memory remains a keenly debated topic, with disagreement over whether its role is temporary or permanent. Recently, there has been interest in how navigation by hippocampally-compromised patients in environments learned long ago speaks to this issue. However, identifying patients with damage that is primarily hippocampal, control subjects matched for navigation experience, and testing their in situ navigation, present substantial problems. We met these challenges by using a highly accurate and interactive virtual reality simulation of central London (UK) to assess the navigation ability of a licensed London taxi driver who had sustained bilateral hippocampal damage. In this test, patient TT and matched control taxi drivers drove a virtual London taxi along the streets they had first learned 40 years before. We found that the hippocampus is not required for general orientation in the city either in first person or survey perspectives, detailed topographical knowledge of landmarks and their spatial relationships, or even for active navigation along some routes. However, in his navigation TT was very reliant on main artery or 'A' roads, and became lost when navigation depended instead on non-A roads. We conclude that the hippocampus in humans is necessary for facilitating navigation in places learned long ago, particularly where complex large-scale spaces are concerned, and successful navigation requires access to detailed spatial representations.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Amnesia / physiopathology
  • Amnesia / psychology
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Learning
  • Limbic Encephalitis / physiopathology
  • Limbic Encephalitis / psychology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Orientation
  • Perceptual Disorders / etiology*
  • Perceptual Disorders / physiopathology
  • Space Perception*
  • Spatial Behavior