The impact of ageing reveals distinct roles for human dentate gyrus and CA3 in pattern separation and object recognition memory.

Serena Dillon, Demi Tsivos, Michael Knight, Bryony McCann, Catherine Pennington, Margaret Newson, Myra Conway, Anna Shiel, Risto Kauppinen, Liz Coulthard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
379 Downloads (Pure)


Both recognition of familiar objects and pattern separation, a process that orthogonalises overlapping events, are critical for effective memory. Evidence is emerging that human pattern separation requires dentate gyrus. Dentate gyrus is intimately connected to CA3 where, in animals, an autoassociative network enables recall of complete memories to underpin object/event recognition. Despite huge motivation to treat age-related human memory disorders, interaction between human CA3 and dentate subfields is difficult to investigate due to small size and proximity. We tested the hypothesis that human dentate gyrus is critical for pattern separation, whereas, CA3 underpins identical object recognition. Using 3 T MR hippocampal subfield volumetry combined with a behavioural pattern separation task, we demonstrate that dentate gyrus volume predicts accuracy and response time during behavioural pattern separation whereas CA3 predicts performance in object recognition memory. Critically, human dentate gyrus volume decreases with age whereas CA3 volume is age-independent. Further, decreased dentate gyrus volume, and no other subfield volume, mediates adverse effects of aging on memory. Thus, we demonstrate
distinct roles for CA3 and dentate gyrus in human memory and uncover the variegated effects of human ageing across hippocampal regions. Accurate pinpointing of focal memory-related deficits will allow future targeted treatment for memory loss.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14069
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2017

Structured keywords

  • CRICBristol
  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Science


  • hippocampus
  • pattern separation
  • MRI
  • memory
  • dementia
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment

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