Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Although the general role of the medial-temporal lobe (MTL) in episodic memory is well established, controversy surrounds the precise division of labor between distinct MTL subregions. The perirhinal cortex (PrC) has been hypothesized to support nonassociative item encoding that contributes to later familiarity, whereas the hippocampus supports associative encoding that selectively contributes to later recollection. However, because previous paradigms have predominantly used recollection of the item context as a measure of associative encoding, it remains unclear whether recollection of different kinds of episodic detail depends on the same or different MTL encoding operations. In our current functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we devised a subsequent memory paradigm that assessed successful item encoding in addition to the encoding of two distinct episodic details: an item–color and an item–context detail. Hippocampal encoding activation was selectively enhanced during trials leading to successful recovery of either an item–color or item–context association. Moreover, the magnitude of hippocampal activation correlated with the number, and not the kind, of associated details successfully bound, providing strong evidence for a role of the hippocampus in domain-general associative encoding. By contrast, PrC encoding activation correlated with both nonassociative item encoding as well as associative item–color binding, but not with item–context binding. This pattern suggests that the PrC contributions to memory encoding may be domain-specific and limited to the binding of items with presented item-related features. Critically, together with a separately conducted behavioral study, these data raise the possibility that PrC encoding operations—in conjunction with hippocampal mechanisms—contribute to later recollection of presented item details.