Hippocampal biology and function


Hippocampal biology and function

Hippocampus is region of the brain that is associated primarily with memory. The name hippocampus is derived from the Greek hippocampus. A hippo meaning “horse” and kampos meaning “sea monster”, since the structure’s shape resembles that of a sea horse. The hippocampus, which is located in the inner medial region of the temporal lobe, forms part of the limbic system, which is particularly important in regulating emotional responses. The hippocampus is thought to be principally involved in storing long-term memories and in making those memories resistant to forgetting, though this is a matter of debate. It is also thought to play an important role in spatial processing and navigation.

Anatomy of the hippocampus

The anatomy of the hippocampus is of chief importance to its function. The hippocampus receives input from and sends output to the rest of the brain via a structure known as the entorhinal cortex, which is located beneath the anterior frontal region of the hippocampus. The hippocampal formation itself is composed of several subregions, which include the cornu ammonis , the dentate gyrus, and the subiculum.

Functions of the hippocampus

The two most-influential theories for hippocampal function are related to space and memory. The spatial hypothesis was supported by the seminal discovery in 1971 of cells in the hippocampus that fired bursts of action potentials when a rat traversed specific locations in space, or “place fields.” That suggested that the hippocampus was a sort of device used by the brain for mapping layouts of the environment. Data supporting that idea came from later virtual navigation studies in humans, which suggested a strong association between the hippocampus and spatial navigation. The memory hypothesis originated in 1957 and was supported by studies and observations in which hippocampal removal resulted in a loss of the ability to form new memories, particularly fact- and event-related declarative memories.

Although there is near universal agreement among scientists that the hippocampus is important for memory, the exact processes by which the hippocampus supports memory are subject to much debate. Some studies suggest that the hippocampus binds items and contexts into unified experiences and stores them. Other studies suggest that the hippocampus is preferentially involved in conscious re-collection or the experience of mental time travel during recall. Still other studies suggest that the hippocampus is able to support rapid learning by reducing interference among similar memories for example, where a person parked his or her car today versus yesterday. Some theories of hippocampal function treat the hippocampus as an index that binds together elements of an experience but does not store the experience itself. The latter is assumed to be stored in a distributed fashion throughout the brain, while the hippocampus is assumed to possess an index of that distributed code.

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