Factors affecting medial temporal lobe engagement for past and future episodic events: an ALE meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies

Brain Cogn. 2012 Oct;80(1):111-25. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2012.05.004. Epub 2012 Jun 16.


Remembering the past and envisioning the future are at the core of one's sense of identity. Neuroimaging studies investigating the neural substrates underlying past and future episodic events have been growing in number. However, the experimental paradigms used to select and elicit episodic events vary greatly, leading to disparate results, especially with respect to the laterality and antero-posterior localization of hippocampal and adjacent medial temporal activations (i.e., parahippocampal, entorhinal and perirhinal cortices, amygdala). Although a central concern in today's literature, the issue of hippocampal and medial temporal lobe laterality and antero-posterior segregation in past and future episodic events has not yet been addressed extensively. Using the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) procedure (Turkeltaub, Eden, Jones, & Zeffiro, 2002), we performed a meta-analysis of hippocampal and adjacent medial temporal coordinates extracted from neuroimaging studies examining past remembering and future envisioning. We questioned whether methodological choices could influence the laterality of activations, namely (1) the type of cue used (generic vs. specific), (2) the type of task performed (recognition vs. recall/imagine), (3) the nature of the information retrieved (episodic vs. "strictly" episodic events) and (4) the age of participants. We consider "strictly" episodic events as events which are not only spatio-temporally unique and personal like episodic events, but are also associated with contextual and phenomenological details. These four factors were compared two-by-two, generating eight whole-brain statistical maps. Results indicate that (1) specific cues tend to activate more the right anterior hippocampus compared to the use of generic cues, (2) recall/imagine tasks tend to recruit more the left posterior parahippocampal gyrus compared to recognition tasks, (3) (re/pre)experiencing strictly episodic events tends to activate more the bilateral posterior hippocampus compared to episodic events and (4) older subjects tend to activate more the right anterior hippocampus compared to younger subjects. Importantly, our results stress that strictly episodic events triggered by specific cues elicit greater left posterior hippocampal activation than episodic events triggered by specific cues. These findings suggest that such basic methodological choices have an impact on the conclusions reached regarding past and future (re/pre)experiencing and their neural substrates.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*