Recalling routes around london: activation of the right hippocampus in taxi drivers

J Neurosci. 1997 Sep 15;17(18):7103-10. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.17-18-07103.1997.


Functional imaging to date has examined the neural basis of knowledge of spatial layouts of large-scale environments typically in the context of episodic memory with specific spatiotemporal references. Much human behavior, however, takes place in very familiar environments in which knowledge of spatial layouts has entered the domain of general facts often referred to as semantic memory. In this study, positron emission tomography (PET) was used to examine the neural substrates of topographical memory retrieval in licensed London taxi drivers of many years experience while they recalled complex routes around the city. Compared with baseline and other nontopographical memory tasks, this resulted in activation of a network of brain regions, including the right hippocampus. Recall of famous landmarks for which subjects had no knowledge of their location within a spatial framework activated similar regions, except for the right hippocampus. This suggests that the hippocampus is involved in the processing of spatial layouts established over long time courses. The involvement of similar brain areas in routes and landmarks memory indicates that the topographical memory system may be primed to respond to any relevant topographical stimulation; however, the right hippocampus is recruited specifically for navigation in large-scale spatial environments. In contrast, nontopographical semantic memory retrieval involved the left inferior frontal gyrus, with no change in activity in medial temporal regions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • London
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Semantics
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed