Probing the relevance of the hippocampus for conflict-induced memory improvement

Neuroimage. 2021 Feb 1:226:117563. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117563. Epub 2020 Nov 13.


The hippocampus plays a key role for episodic memory. In addition, a small but growing number of studies has shown that it also contributes to the resolution of response conflicts. It is less clear how these two functions are related, and how they are affected by hippocampal lesions in patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE). Previous studies suggested that conflict stimuli might be better remembered, but whether the hippocampus is critical for supporting this interaction between conflict processing and memory formation is unknown. Here, we tested 19 patients with MTLE due to hippocampal sclerosis and 19 matched healthy controls. Participants performed a face-word Stroop task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) followed by a recognition task for the faces. We tested whether memory performance and activity in brain regions implicated in long-term memory were modulated by conflict during encoding, and whether this differed between MTLE patients and controls. In controls, we largely replicated previous findings of improved memory for conflict stimuli. While MTLE patients showed response time slowing during conflict trials as well, they did not exhibit a memory benefit. In controls, neural activity of conflict resolution and memory encoding interacted within a hippocampal region of interest. Here, left hippocampal recruitment was less efficient for memory performance in incongruent trials than in congruent trials, suggesting an intrahippocampal competition for limited resources. They also showed an involvement of precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex during conflict resolution. Both effects were not observed in MTLE patients, where activation of the precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex instead predicted later memory. Further research is needed to find out whether our findings reflect widespread functional reorganization of the episodic memory network due to hippocampal dysfunction.

Keywords: Hippocampus; Memory; Mesial temporal lobe epilepsy; Response conflict.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Sclerosis / diagnostic imaging