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A fundamental question about human memory is which brain structures are involved, and when, in transforming experiences into memories. This experiment sought to identify neural correlates of memory formation with the use of intracerebral electrodes implanted in the brains of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded directly from the medial temporal lobe (MTL) as the patients studied single words. ERPs elicited by words subsequently recalled in a memory test were contrasted with ERPs elicited by unrecalled words. Memory formation was associated with distinct but interrelated ERP differences within the rhinal cortex and the hippocampus, which arose after about 300 and 500 milliseconds, respectively. These findings suggest that declarative memory formation is dissociable into subprocesses and sequentially organized within the MTL.
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