Human emotion and memory: interactions of the amygdala and hippocampal complex

The amygdala and hippocampal complex, two medial temporal lobe structures, are linked to two independent memory systems, each with unique characteristic functions. In emotional situations, these two systems interact in subtle but important ways. Specifically, the amygdala can modulate both the encoding and the storage of hippocampal-dependent memories. The hippocampal complex, by forming episodic representations of the emotional significance and interpretation of events, can influence the amygdala response when emotional stimuli are encountered. Although these are independent memory systems, they act in concert when emotion meets memory.

Amygdala-hippocampus dynamic interaction in relation to memory

Typically the term “memory” refers to the ability to consciously remember past experiences or previously learned information. This kind of memory is considered to be dependent upon the hippocampal system. However, our emotional state seems to considerably affect the way in which we retain information and the accuracy with which the retention occurs. The amygdala is the most notably involved brain structure in emotional responses and the formation of emotional memories. In this review we describe a system, composed of the amygdala and the hippocampus, that acts synergistically to form long-term memories of significantly emotional events. These brain structures are activated following an emotional event and cross-talk with each other in the process of consolidation. This dual activation of the amygdala and the hippocampus and the dynamics between them may be what gives emotionally based memories their uniqueness.

Indelibility SubCortical Emotional Memories

Acquisition and extinction of fear responses conditioned to a visual stimulus were examined in rats with ablations of visual cortex. Visual cortex lesions did not interfere with acquisition, indicating that visual fear conditioning, like auditory fear conditioning, is mediated by sub-cortical, probably thalamo-amygdala, sensory pathways. In contrast to acquisition, extinction was greatly prolonged, if not prevented, by cortical ablation. This resistance to extinction of sub cortical emotional memories may explain certain aspects of emotional memory in man.

Fear in the Brain

Unraveling the mystery of how the mind experiences fear is one of the most interesting quests in recent neuroscience.