Strong evidence for pattern separation in human dentate gyrus

Berron, David, Schütze, Hartmut, Maass, Anne, Cardenas-Blanco, Arturo, Kuijf, Hugo J., Kumaran, Dharshan, Düzel, Emrah


Journal of Neuroscience 36 (29), p. 7569-7579


The hippocampus is proposed to be critical in distinguishing between similar experiences by performing pattern separation computations that create orthogonalized representations for related episodes. Previous neuroimaging studies have provided indirect evidence that the dentate gyrus (DG) and CA3 hippocampal subregions support pattern separation by inferring the nature of underlying representations from the observation of novelty signals. Here, we use ultra-high-resolution fMRI at 7 T and multivariate pattern analysis to provide compelling evidence that the DG subregion specifically sustains representations of similar scenes that are less overlapping than in other hippocampal (e.g.,CA3) and medial temporal lobe regions (e.g.,entorhinal cortex). Further, we provide evidence that novelty signals within the DG are stimulus specific rather than generic in nature. Our study, in providing a mechanistic link between novelty signals and the underlying representations, constitutes the first demonstration that the human DG performs pattern separation.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: A fundamental property of an episodic memory system is the ability to minimize interference between similar episodes. The dentate gyrus (DG) subregion of the hippocampus is widely viewed to realize this function through a computation referred to as pattern separation, which creates distinct nonoverlapping neural codes for individual events. Here, we leveraged 7 T fMRI to test the hypothesis that this region supports pattern separation. Our results demonstrate that the DG supports representations of similar scenes that are less overlapping than those in neighboring subregions. The current study therefore is the first to offer compelling evidence that the human DG supports pattern separation by obtaining critical empirical data at the representational level: the level where this computation is defined.