Re-evaluating the role of the mammillary bodies in memory

Neuropsychologia. 2010 Jul;48(8):2316-27. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.10.019. Epub 2009 Oct 30.


Although the mammillary bodies were among the first brain regions to be implicated in amnesia, the functional importance of this structure for memory has been questioned over the intervening years. Recent patient studies have, however, re-established the mammillary bodies, and their projections to the anterior thalamus via the mammillothalamic tract, as being crucial for recollective memory. Complementary animal research has also made substantial advances in recent years by determining the electrophysiological, neurochemical, anatomical and functional properties of the mammillary bodies. Mammillary body and mammillothalamic tract lesions in rats impair performance on a number of spatial memory tasks and these deficits are consistent with impoverished spatial encoding. The mammillary bodies have traditionally been considered a hippocampal relay which is consistent with the equivalent deficits seen following lesions of the mammillary bodies or their major efferents, the mammillothalamic tract. However, recent findings suggest that the mammillary bodies may have a role in memory that is independent of their hippocampal formation afferents; instead, the ventral tegmental nucleus of Gudden could be providing critical mammillary body inputs needed to support mnemonic processes. Finally, it is now apparent that the medial and lateral mammillary nuclei should be considered separately and initial research indicates that the medial mammillary nucleus is predominantly responsible for the spatial memory deficits following mammillary body lesions in rats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amnesia / pathology
  • Amnesia / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Mammillary Bodies / anatomy & histology*
  • Mammillary Bodies / injuries
  • Mammillary Bodies / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Rats