Category specificity in the medial temporal lobe: A systematic review

Hippocampus. 2019 Apr;29(4):313-339. doi: 10.1002/hipo.23024. Epub 2018 Dec 28.


Theoretical accounts of medial temporal lobe (MTL) function ascribe different functions to subregions of the MTL including perirhinal, entorhinal, parahippocampal cortices, and the hippocampus. Some have suggested that the functional roles of these subregions vary in terms of their category specificity, showing preferential coding for certain stimulus types, but the evidence for this functional organization is mixed. In this systematic review, we evaluate existing evidence for regional specialization in the MTL for three categories of visual stimuli: faces, objects, and scenes. We review and synthesize across univariate and multivariate neuroimaging studies, as well as neuropsychological studies of cases with lesions to the MTL. Neuroimaging evidence suggests that faces activate the perirhinal cortex, entorhinal cortex, and the anterior hippocampus, while scenes engage the parahippocampal cortex and both the anterior and posterior hippocampus, depending on the contrast condition. There is some evidence for object-related activity in anterior MTL regions when compared to scenes, and in posterior MTL regions when compared to faces, suggesting that aspects of object representations may share similarities with face and scene representations. While neuroimaging evidence suggests some hippocampal specialization for faces and scenes, neuropsychological evidence shows that hippocampal damage leads to impairments in scene memory and perception, but does not entail equivalent impairments for faces in cases where the perirhinal cortex remains intact. Regional specialization based on stimulus categories has implications for understanding the mechanisms of MTL subregions, and highlights the need for the development of theoretical models of MTL function that can accommodate the differential patterns of specificity observed in the MTL.

Keywords: fMRI; human; lesion; material specificity; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Temporal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*