Several models have proposed that different regions of the medial temporal lobes contribute to different aspects of episodic memory. For instance, according to one view, the perirhinal cortex represents specific items, parahippocampal cortex represents information regarding the context in which these items were encountered, and the hippocampus represents item–context bindings. Here, we used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test a specific prediction of this model—namely, that successful retrieval of items from context cues will elicit perirhinal recruitment and that successful retrieval of contexts from item cues will elicit parahippocampal cortex recruitment. Retrieval of the bound representation in either case was expected to elicit hippocampal engagement. To test these predictions, we had participants study several item–context pairs (i.e., pictures of objects and scenes, respectively), and then had them attempt to recall items from associated context cues and contexts from associated item cues during a scanned retrieval session. Results based on both univariate and multivariate analyses confirmed a role for hippocampus in content-general relational memory retrieval, and a role for parahippocampal cortex in successful retrieval of contexts from item cues. However, we also found that activity differences in perirhinal cortex were correlated with successful cued recall for both items and contexts. These findings provide partial support for the above predictions and are discussed with respect to several models of medial temporal lobe function.Highlights
▴ A prediction of the Binding of Items and Contexts (or BIC) model was tested. ▴ Contributions of MTL structures to cued recall of items and contexts were examined. ▴ Parahippocampal cortex supports successful retrieval of contexts from item cues. ▴ Perirhinal cortex supports item and context retrieval from associated cues. ▴ Hippocampus supports flexible content-general relational memory retrieval.