Partially segregated neural networks for spatial and contextual memory in virtual navigation.
The hippocampus has been proposed as the site of neural representation of large-scale environmental space, based upon the identification of place cells (neurons with receptive fields for current position in the environment) within the rat hippocampus and the demonstration that hippocampal lesions impair place learning in the rat. The inability to identify place cells within the monkey hippocampus and the observation that unilateral hippocampal lesions do not selectively impair topographic behavior in humans suggest that alternate regions may subserve this function in man. To examine the contribution of the hippocampus and adjacent medial-temporal lobe structures to topographic learning in the human, a 'virtual' maze was used as a task environment during functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. During the learning and recall of topographic information, medial-temporal activity was confined to the para- hippocampal gyri. This activity accords well with the lesion site known to produce topographical disorientation in humans. Activity was also observed in cortical areas known to project to the parahippocampus and previously proposed to contribute to a network subserving spatially guided behavior.