Responses of neurons in the medial temporal lobe during encoding and recognition of face-scene pairs

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Associations between co-occurring stimuli are formed in the medial temporal lobe (MTL). Here, we recorded from 508 single and multi-units in the MTL while participants learned and retrieved associations between unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar scenes. Participant's memories for the face-scene pairs were later tested using cued recall and recognition tests. The results show that neurons in the parahippocampal cortex are most likely to respond with changes from baseline firing to these stimuli during both encoding and recognition, and this region showed the greatest proportion of cells showing differential responses depending on the phase of the task. Furthermore, we found that cells in the parahippocampal cortex that responded during both encoding and recognition were more likely to show decreases from baseline firing than cells that were only recruited during recognition, which were more likely to show increases in firing. Since all stimuli shown during recognition were familiar to the patients, these findings suggest that with familiarity, cell responses become more sharply tuned. No neurons in this region, however, were found to be affected by recombining face/scene pairs. Neurons in other MTL regions, particularly the hippocampus, were sensitive to stimulus configurations. Thus, the results support the idea that neurons in the parahippocampal cortex code for features of stimuli and neurons in the hippocampus are more likely to represent their specific configurations.

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