Duss, Simone; Reber, Thomas P; Hänggi, Jürgen; Schwab, Simon; Wiest, Roland; Müri, René Martin; Brugger, Peter; Gutbrod, Klemens; Henke, Katharina (2014). Unconscious relational encoding depends on hippocampus. Brain, 137(12), pp. 3355-3370. Oxford University Press 10.1093/brain/awu270
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Textbooks divide between human memory systems based on consciousness. Hippocampus is thought to support only conscious encoding, while neocortex supports both conscious and unconscious encoding. We tested whether processing modes, not consciousness, divide between memory systems in three neuroimaging experiments with 11 amnesic patients (mean age = 45.55 years, standard deviation = 8.74, range = 23-60) and 11 matched healthy control subjects. Examined processing modes were single item versus relational encoding with only relational encoding hypothesized to depend on hippocampus. Participants encoded and later retrieved either single words or new relations between words. Consciousness of encoding was excluded by subliminal (invisible) word presentation. Amnesic patients and controls performed equally well on the single item task activating prefrontal cortex. But only the controls succeeded on the relational task activating the hippocampus, while amnesic patients failed as a group. Hence, unconscious relational encoding, but not unconscious single item encoding, depended on hippocampus. Yet, three patients performed normally on unconscious relational encoding in spite of amnesia capitalizing on spared hippocampal tissue and connections to language cortex. This pattern of results suggests that processing modes divide between memory systems, while consciousness divides between levels of function within a memory system.