Hippocampal activation during episodic and semantic memory retrieval: comparing category production and category cued recall

Neuropsychologia. 2008;46(8):2109-21. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.02.030. Epub 2008 Mar 18.


Whether or not the hippocampus participates in semantic memory retrieval has been the focus of much debate in the literature. However, few neuroimaging studies have directly compared hippocampal activation during semantic and episodic retrieval tasks that are well matched in all respects other than the source of the retrieved information. In Experiment 1, we compared hippocampal fMRI activation during a classic semantic memory task, category production, and an episodic version of the same task, category cued recall. Left hippocampal activation was observed in both episodic and semantic conditions, although other regions of the brain clearly distinguished the two tasks. Interestingly, participants reported using retrieval strategies during the semantic retrieval task that relied on autobiographical and spatial information; for example, visualizing themselves in their kitchen while producing items for the category kitchen utensils. In Experiment 2, we considered whether the use of these spatial and autobiographical retrieval strategies could have accounted for the hippocampal activation observed in Experiment 1. Categories were presented that elicited one of three retrieval strategy types, autobiographical and spatial, autobiographical and nonspatial, and neither autobiographical nor spatial. Once again, similar hippocampal activation was observed for all three category types, regardless of the inclusion of spatial or autobiographical content. We conclude that the distinction between semantic and episodic memory is more complex than classic memory models suggest.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Hippocampus / blood supply
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Semantics*


  • Oxygen