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Medial Temporal Lobe Coding of Item and Spatial Information during Relational Binding in Working Memory

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Several models have proposed that different medial temporal lobe (MTL) regions represent different kinds of information in the service of long-term memory. For instance, it has been proposed that perirhinal cortex (PRC), parahippocampal cortex (PHC), and hippocampus differentially support long-term memory for item information, spatial context, and item-context relations present during an event, respectively. Recent evidence has indicated that, in addition to long-term memory, MTL subregions may similarly contribute to processes that support the retention of complex spatial arrangements of objects across short delays. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and multivoxel pattern similarity analysis to investigate the extent to which human MTL regions independently code for object and spatial information, as well as the conjunction of this information, during working memory encoding and active maintenance. Voxel activity patterns in PRC, temporopolar cortex, and amygdala carried information about individual objects, whereas activity patterns in the PHC and posterior hippocampus carried information about the configuration of spatial locations that was to be remembered. Additionally, the integrity of multivoxel patterns in the right anterior hippocampus across encoding and delay periods was predictive of accurate short-term memory for object-location relationships. These results are consistent with parallel processing of item and spatial context information by PRC and PHC, respectively, and the binding of item and context by the hippocampus.

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