Adult rats with extensive, bilateral neurotoxic lesions of the hippocampus showed normal forgetting curves for object recognition memory, yet were impaired on closely related tests of object recency memory. The present findings point to specific mechanisms for temporal order information (recency) that are dependent on the hippocampus and do not involve object recognition memory. The object recognition tests measured rats exploring simultaneously presented objects, one novel and the other familiar. Task difficulty was varied by altering the retention delays after presentation of the familiar object, so creating a forgetting curve. Hippocampal lesions had no apparent effect, despite using an apparatus (bow-tie maze) where it was possible to give lists of objects that might be expected to increase stimulus interference. In contrast, the same hippocampal lesions impaired the normal preference for an older (less recent) familiar object over a more recent, familiar object. A correlation was found between the loss of septal hippocampal tissue and this impairment in recency memory. The dissociation in the present study between recognition memory (spared) and recency memory (impaired) was unusually compelling, because it was possible to test the same objects for both forms of memory within the same session and within the same apparatus. The object recency deficit is of additional interest as it provides an example of a nonspatial memory deficit following hippocampal damage.
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