The medial temporal lobes distinguish between within-item and item-context relations during autobiographical memory retrieval

Hippocampus. 2015 Dec;25(12):1577-90. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22477. Epub 2015 Jun 9.


During autobiographical memory retrieval, the medial temporal lobes (MTL) relate together multiple event elements, including object (within-item relations) and context (item-context relations) information, to create a cohesive memory. There is consistent support for a functional specialization within the MTL according to these relational processes, much of which comes from recognition memory experiments. In this study, we compared brain activation patterns associated with retrieving within-item relations (i.e., associating conceptual and sensory-perceptual object features) and item-context relations (i.e., spatial relations among objects) with respect to naturalistic autobiographical retrieval. We developed a novel paradigm that cued participants to retrieve information about past autobiographical events, non-episodic within-item relations, and non-episodic item-context relations with the perceptuomotor aspects of retrieval equated across these conditions. We used multivariate analysis techniques to extract common and distinct patterns of activity among these conditions within the MTL and across the whole brain, both in terms of spatial and temporal patterns of activity. The anterior MTL (perirhinal cortex and anterior hippocampus) was preferentially recruited for generating within-item relations later in retrieval whereas the posterior MTL (posterior parahippocampal cortex and posterior hippocampus) was preferentially recruited for generating item-context relations across the retrieval phase. These findings provide novel evidence for functional specialization within the MTL with respect to naturalistic memory retrieval.

Keywords: contextual memory; episodic memory; medial temporal lobes; relational memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology