Neural encoding of individual words and faces by the human hippocampus and amygdala

Nature. 1988 Jun 23;333(6175):773-5. doi: 10.1038/333773a0.


Patients with lesions in the medial temporal lobe (MTL) of the brain, which includes the hippocampus, amygdala and parahippocampal gyrus, are severely impaired in their ability to remember and recognize words or faces which they saw only a short time ago. These lesions also prevent the effect of word repetition on cortical event-related potentials that are associated with these tasks. We have been able to study the response of individual neurons in the human medial temporal lobe to such delayed recognition tasks in epileptic patients undergoing neurosurgery. We found that some MTL neurons preferentially fired on sight of one particular word from a set of ten words used in a memory task, and others fired in response to one particular face. This stimulus-specific firing was maximal during the time that the neocortical event potentials are most sensitive to stimulus repetition, suggesting that the MTL contributes specific information to the cortex during the retrieval of recent memories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*