Evidence from animal studies points to the importance of the parahippocampal region (PHR) [including entorhinal, perirhinal, and parahippocampal (PHC) cortices] for recognition of visual stimuli. Recent findings in animals suggest that PHR may also be involved in visual associative recognition memory for configurations of stimuli. Thus far, however, such involvement has not been demonstrated in humans. In fact, it has been argued that associative recognition in humans is critically dependent on the hippocampal formation (HF). To better understand the division of function between HF and PHR during recognition memory in humans, we measured the activity of both areas in healthy young adults during an associative recognition memory task using functional magnetic resonance imaging. To more precisely characterize the nature of the associations that might be coded by the HF and PHR during recognition, subjects were required to learn and were later tested for associations based on either the spatial arrangements of two stimuli or the identity of two stimuli (a face and a tool). An area in the PHC was found to be more active for recognized old configurations than new configurations in both the spatial and identity conditions. The HF, on the other hand, was more active for recognition of new configurations than old configurations and also more active in the spatial than the identity condition. These data highlight the involvement of PHR in the long-term coding of associative relationships between stimuli and help to clarify the nature of its functional distinction from the HF.
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