Neuropsychological evidence for a topographical learning mechanism in parahippocampal cortex

Cogn Neuropsychol. 2001 Sep;18(6):481-508. doi: 10.1080/02643290125929.


The Parahippocampal Place Area (PPA; Epstein & Kanwisher, 1998) is a region within posterior parahippocampal cortex that responds selectively to visual stimuli that convey information about the layout of local space. Here we describe two patients who suffered damage to the PPA after vascular incidents. Both subsequently exhibited memory problems for topographical materials and were unable to navigate unassisted in unfamiliar environments. Performance on a continuous n-back visual memory test was significantly lower for novel scene-like stimuli than for novel object-like stimuli. In contrast, performance was normal on a famous landmark recognition task and on two perceptual tasks that required on-line analysis of scene geometry. Both patients were able to produce accurate maps of premorbidly learned places but were unable to produce accurate maps of new places. These results converge with previous neuroimaging work to demonstrate that the PPA (1) is selectively involved in processing information about the geometry of surrounding space, and (2) may play a more critical role in the encoding of this information into memory than in the initial perceptual processing, recognition, or recall of this information.