'Storytelling station' discovered in the hippocampus

PhD students discovered a ‘storytelling station’ that could lead to earlier treatment of dementia.

Erika Armanino
16th October 2021
The study ,published in Current Biology , explores a new area of the hippocampus, where neurone links separate distant events into a single narrative. This area of the brain may support a narrative architecture for real-life memory that could lead to earlier treatment of dementia.

The discovery does not only lay basis for Dementia’s treatments, but also for more efficient assessments of damage to memory from brain injuries.

For this study, a team of researchers from California University used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyse the brains of 36 volunteers as they listened to fictional short stories and recalled them a day later.

Each fictional story was four-minute long and it featured a protagonist, some side characters and a memorable event.

When the researchers analysed the results with the fMRI, the participants' hippocampus “lit up” when learning and recounting stories with a cohesive narrative. On the other hand, if the story wasn’t cohesive, the hippocampus didn’t activate. 

The study found that the hippocampus triggered more information about the second event than when remembering non-connected stories. This ability to bring back the hippocampal activity of the second event was linked to the amount of detail the volunteers could remember.

Hippocampus representation. Credits: Pixabay

Mr Cohn-Sheehy, one of the researchers of the study, stated that the new discovery could lead to further tests for early staged of memory decline in Alzheimer’s patients.  What could make this discovery successful is the current high failure rate of current dementia drugs.

The PhD student added that “even though life's events occur at disparate times, the hippocampus can form memories that integrate events into a larger, coherent narrative. By bridging the divide between distant events, the hippocampus may support a narrative-level architecture for episodic memory,”.

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