Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

What Is Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is a small brain structure that lies under the medial temporal lobe, one on each side of the brain and forms a crucial part of the limbic system, the region that regulates emotions. It is sometimes grouped with other nearby structures, like the dentate gyrus and is called the ‘Hippocampal formation.”

The Hippocampus is important for the formation of new autobiographical and fact memories. This organ may function as a memory “gateway”, through which new memories must pass before entering the permanent storage in the brain.

Function Of Hippocampus:

Some of the major functions of the Hippocampus include the following:

Memory:

Hippocampus plays a crucial role in the formation of new memories and in the detection of new surroundings, stimuli and occurrences. Some also believe that this small brain organ is also involved in declarative memory, or the memories that can be stated verbally, such as facts and figures. However, studies have shown that a damage to the hippocampus, does not affect the person’s ability to learn a new skill, like solving certain types of puzzles or playing a musical instrument. So, this suggests that the memories involved in learning a procedure, are governed by areas of the brain, other than the Hippocampus.

Spatial Navigation and Spatial Memory:

The Hippocampus plays an important role in spatial navigation and spatial memory. It is helpful in learning and storing information. The Involvement of the Hippocampus in memory function and learning behaviors have been studied by Neuroscientis John O’ Keefe and Professor of Psychology, Lynn Nadel, during 1960s and 1970s. Together, they wrote a book in 1978, “The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map”, which outlines the role of the hippocampus in learning and storing information referring to portions of space, in the form of Cognitive maps.

Behavioral Inhibition:

The Hippocampus may also play one more important role. Animal experiments investigating the effects of a damage to the Hippocampus, have suggested that the damage results in hypersensitivity and, secondly, it affects the ability to inhibit responses that have been learnt previously.

What Happens If Hippocampus Get Damaged?

The Hippocampus is especially sensitive to the global reductions in the level of oxygen in the body. So, periods of oxygen deprivation or Hypoxia, which are not fatal, may nonetheless, cause particular damage to the hippocampus. This could occur, usually during a heart attack, respiratory failure, carbon monoxide poisoning, and sleep apnea.

Damaged Hippocampus can cause loss of memory and difficulty in establishing new memories. In Alzheimer’s disease, the Hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain that is affected, leading to the confusion and loss of memory, that is so commonly seen in the early stages of the disease. This small brain structure may also be damaged through chronic seizures in epilepsy. Even, Encephalitis can cause a damage to the Hippocampus. Schizophrenia, is one more condition that may be associated with a damage to the Hippocampus.

One symptom of damage to the Hippocampus is Amnesia, or the loss of some portion of the memory. Apart from this, a damage to the Hippocampus can also cause poor impulse control, hyperactivity, and difficulty with spatial navigation or memory.

Now, what happens when the Hippocampus gets damaged? Well! As mentioned earlier, a damage to the hippocampus can result in Amnesia, or a condition associated with an inability to learn and then recall new information. Individuals, with amnesia are unable to form new long-term memories and they also forget information soon after they see or hear it. Amnesia refers to partial, yet serious loss of memory. For instance, the affected persons cannot remember, their mother’s maiden name, or what happened last Christmas eve, but may recall the joke that their brother told them a few seconds ago.

Real-life amnesia, generally does not mean that you lose your sense of identity. In fact, the individuals know who they are, however, may have trouble learning new facts and forming new memories. Though there are no specific treatments for Amnesia, there are techniques for enhancing memory and even psychological support can help the patients

Conclusion:

Now that we are aware of some of the important functions of the hippocampus, and also know about what happens when the Hippocampus gets damaged; it is our duty to keep ourselves checked and try to prevent anything that can damage the Hippocampus. In case, you suspect or are suffering from any such condition that can result in a damage to the Hippocampus, then do talk with your doctor about it and find out your ways to prevent your Hippocampus and keep away from losing your memories.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 20, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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