Rosalind Franklin Prize Lecture
By Professor Eleanor A. Maguire, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London
Historically memory research has focussed on the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain's temporal lobes. Damage to the hippocampus is known to have a devastating impact on the ability to form new memories as well as compromising recollection of the past. Despite many decades of research, significant gaps in our knowledge remain, and we still don't know how exactly activity across millions of hippocampal neurons supports a person's lifetime of experiences. Recent advances in brain imaging technology, however, now offer the prospect of decoding memories from neural activity in the hippocampus of humans in vivo.
Furthermore, in the last number of years it has become apparent that the hippocampus does not act alone in supporting memory. Using brain imaging it has been possible to delineate a distributed network of brain regions involved in supporting memories of our personal experiences. Intriguingly, it has been discovered recently that these memory areas overlap considerably with those required for spatial navigation, and also imagining fictitious and future experiences. Understanding exactly what processes memory, navigation, imagination and thinking about the future have in common, and how they map onto specific brain areas such as the hippocampus is now a key question in cognitive neuroscience.