Take-home message: the mammillary bodies can support spatial memory without their dense subicular complex inputs, revealing the importance of the other afferents for sustaining mammillary body function. This new evidence for independent functions shows that the mammillary bodies are more than just a hippocampal relay. [Download the paper]
Hippocampus. 2011 Sep;21(9):945-57. doi: 10.1002/hipo.20796. Epub 2010 May 7.
Vann SD, Erichsen JT, O’Mara SM, Aggleton JP.
It is now clear that the integrity of the fornix is important for normal mnemonic function. The fornix, however, is a major white matter tract, carrying numerous hippocampal formation afferents and efferents, and it is not known which specific components support memory processes. Established theories of extended hippocampal function emphasize the sequential pathway from the hippocampal formation (i.e., subicular complex) to the mammillary bodies and, thence, to the anterior thalamus, as pathology in each of these structures is implicated in anterograde amnesia in humans and spatial memory deficits in rats. The specific importance of the hippocampal formation projections that just innervate the mammillary bodies has, however, never been tested. This study isolated these specific projections in the rat by selectively cutting the descending component of the postcommissural fornix. Two successive, cohorts of rats with these tract lesions were tested on working memory tasks in the water-maze, T-maze, and radial-arm maze. Disconnecting the descending postcommissural fornix had only a mild effect or sometimes no apparent effect on the performance of these spatial memory tasks, even though tracing experiments confirmed the loss of hippocampal formation-mammillary projections. One implication is that the spatial deficits found in rats following standard fornix lesions are only partly attributable to the loss of projections from the hippocampal formation to the mammillary bodies. Perhaps more surprising, the behavioral impact of cutting the descending postcommissural fornix in rats appeared appreciably less than the effect of either mammillary body or mammillothalamic tract lesions. The present experiments show that the mammillary bodies can still effectively support spatial memory in the absence of their dense subicular complex inputs, so revealing the importance of the other afferents for sustaining mammillary body function. This new evidence for independent functions shows that the mammillary bodies are more than just a hippocampal relay.
Copyright © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.