Close but no cigar: Spatial precision deficits following medial temporal lobe lesions provide novel insight into theoretical models of navigation and memory

Hippocampus. 2018 Jan;28(1):31-41. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22801. Epub 2017 Sep 26.


Increasing evidence suggests that the human hippocampus contributes to a range of different behaviors, including episodic memory, language, short-term memory, and navigation. A novel theoretical framework, the Precision and Binding Model, accounts for these phenomenon by describing a role for the hippocampus in high-resolution, complex binding. Other theories like Cognitive Map Theory, in contrast, predict a specific role for the hippocampus in allocentric navigation, while Declarative Memory Theory predicts a specific role in delay-dependent conscious memory. Navigation provides a unique venue for testing these predictions, with past results from research with humans providing inconsistent findings regarding the role of the human hippocampus in spatial navigation. Here, we tested five patients with lesions primarily restricted to the hippocampus and those extending out into the surrounding medial temporal lobe cortex on a virtual water maze task. Consistent with the Precision and Binding Model, we found partially intact allocentric memory in all patients, with impairments in the spatial precision of their searches for a hidden target. We found similar impairments at both immediate and delayed testing. Our findings are consistent with the Precision and Binding Model of hippocampal function, arguing for its role across domains in high-resolution, complex binding.

Significance statement: Remembering goal locations in one's environment is a critical skill for survival. How this information is represented in the brain is still not fully understood, but is believed to rely in some capacity on structures in the medial temporal lobe. Contradictory findings from studies of both humans and animals have been difficult to reconcile with regard to the role of the MTL, specifically the hippocampus. By assessing impairments observed during navigation to a goal in patients with medial temporal lobe damage we can better understand the role these structures play in such behavior. Utilizing virtual reality and novel analysis techniques, we have more precisely assessed the impact that medial temporal lobe damage has on spatial memory and navigation.

Keywords: Hippocampus; Lesions; Medial Temporal Lobe; Spatial Navigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amnesia / diagnostic imaging
  • Amnesia / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Spatial Memory / physiology*
  • Spatial Navigation / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology*