Concept cells: the building blocks of declarative memory functions

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2012 Jul 4;13(8):587-97. doi: 10.1038/nrn3251.


Intracranial recordings in subjects suffering from intractable epilepsy - made during their evaluation for an eventual surgical removal of the epileptic focus - have allowed the extraordinary opportunity to study the firing of multiple single neurons in awake and behaving human subjects. These studies have shown that neurons in the human medial temporal lobe respond in a remarkably selective and abstract manner to particular persons or objects, such as Jennifer Aniston, Luke Skywalker or the Tower of Pisa. These neurons have been named 'Jennifer Aniston neurons' or, more recently, 'concept cells'. I argue that the sparse, explicit and abstract representation of these neurons is crucial for memory functions, such as the creation of associations and the transition between related concepts that leads to episodic memories and the flow of consciousness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Synaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / cytology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*