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Hot Topics: Virtual Reality Used to Study How Memories Are Formed

Jackie Werner Biomedical Sciences, Hot Topics in Research, Neurology

CA1 and CA3 differentially support spontaneous retrieval of episodic contexts within human hippocampal subfields

Dimsdale-Zucker H, Ritchey M, Ekstrom AD, Yonelinas AP, Ranganath C. CA1 and CA3 differentially support spontaneous retrieval of episodic contexts within human hippocampal subfields. Nature Communications. 2018;9(1):294. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-017-02752-1.

The hippocampus plays a critical role in spatial and episodic memory. Mechanistic models predict that hippocampal subfields have computational specializations that differentially support memory. However, there is little empirical evidence suggesting differences between the subfields, particularly in humans. To clarify how hippocampal subfields support human spatial and episodic memory, we developed a virtual reality paradigm where participants passively navigated through houses (spatial contexts) across a series of videos (episodic contexts). We then used multivariate analyses of high-resolution fMRI data to identify neural representations of contextual information during recollection. Multi-voxel pattern similarity analyses revealed that CA1 represented objects that shared an episodic context as more similar than those from different episodic contexts. CA23DG showed the opposite pattern, differentiating between objects encountered in the same episodic context. The complementary characteristics of these subfields explain how we can parse our experiences into cohesive episodes while retaining the specific details that support vivid recollection.