The human hippocampal formation mediates short-term memory of colour-location associations

Neuropsychologia. 2008 Jan 31;46(2):614-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.10.004. Epub 2007 Oct 16.


The medial temporal lobe (MTL) has long been considered essential for declarative long-term memory, whereas the fronto-parietal cortex is generally seen as the anatomical substrate of short-term memory. This traditional dichotomy is questioned by recent studies suggesting a possible role of the MTL for short-term memory. In addition, there is no consensus on a possible specialization of MTL sub-regions for memory of associative information. Here, we investigated short-term memory for single features and feature associations in three humans with post-surgical lesions affecting the right hippocampal formation and in 10 healthy controls. We used three delayed-match-to-sample tasks with two delays (900/5000 ms) and three set sizes (2/4/6 items). Subjects were instructed to remember either colours, locations or colour-location associations. In colour-only and location-only conditions, performance of patients did not differ from controls. By contrast, a significant group difference was found in the association condition at 5000 ms delay. This difference was largely independent of set size, thus suggesting that it cannot be explained by the increased complexity of the association condition. These findings show that the hippocampal formation plays a significant role for short-term memory of simple visuo-spatial associations, and suggest a specialization of MTL sub-regions for associative memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anterior Temporal Lobectomy
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Color
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Epilepsy / surgery
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / surgery
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Reference Values
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / surgery
  • Time Factors