Commonalities and specificities between environmental navigation and autobiographical memory: A synthesis and a theoretical perspective

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 Aug;127:928-945. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.06.012. Epub 2021 Jun 6.


It has been proposed that declarative memory evolved from spatial navigation, with episodic memory having its roots in mechanisms of egocentric navigation and semantic memory in those of allocentric navigation; however, whether these brain networks actually overlap is still unclear. Using Activation Likelihood Estimation, we assessed the correspondence between brain correlates of spatial navigation (SN) and autobiographical memory (AM), further testing whether neural substrates of episodic memory (EAM) and egocentric navigation, and those of semantic memory (SAM) and map-like navigation, coincide. SN and AM commonly activated the parahippocampal gyrus and middle hippocampus, posterior cingulate cortex and right angular gyrus, but also involved distinct brain regions. Similarly, EAM and egocentric navigation, besides sharing a network involving the right angular gyrus, bilateral posterior cingulate and parahippocampal gyrus, activated distinct brain regions; no region was commonly activated by SAM and allocentric navigation. We discuss findings in the light of theories on the relation between navigation and memory, and propose a new theoretical perspective, which takes into account the dynamic nature of navigational processes.

Keywords: Episodic memory; Semantic memory; Space; Spatial knowledge; Spatial representation; fMRI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Parahippocampal Gyrus