The retrieval of learned sequences engages the hippocampus: Evidence from fMRI


Computational models suggest that the hippocampus plays an important role in the retrieval of sequences. However, empirical evidence supporting hippocampal involvement during sequence retrieval is lacking. The current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the role of the human hippocampus during the learning and retrieval of sequences. Participants were asked to learn four sequences comprised of six faces each. An overlapping condition, where sequences shared common elements, was comprised of two sequences in which two identical faces were shown as the middle images of both sequences. A nonoverlapping condition contained two sequences that did not share any faces between them. A third random condition contained two sets of six faces that were always presented in a random order. The fMRI data were split into a learning phase and an experienced phase based upon each individual's behavioral performance. Patterns of hippocampal activity during presentation, delay, and choice periods were assessed both during learning (learning phase) and after subjects learned the sequences to criteria (experienced phase). The results revealed hippocampal activation during sequence learning, consistent with previous findings in rats and humans. Critically, the current results revealed hippocampal activation during the retrieval of learned sequences. No difference in hippocampal activation was seen between the overlapping and nonoverlapping sequences during either sequence learning or retrieval of sequences. The results extend our current knowledge by providing evidence that the hippocampus is active during the retrieval of learned sequences, consistent with current computational models of sequence learning and retrieval. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.



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Copyright © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.