It has been unclear whether the hippocampus is uniquely important for episodic memory (memory for events that are specific to time and place) or whether the hippocampus is also important for learning and remembering facts (semantic memory). In two studies, we assessed the capacity for semantic memory in patients with bilateral damage thought to be restricted primarily to the hippocampal region who developed memory impairment at a known time. Since the onset of their memory impairment, the patients have acquired less factual knowledge than controls. The patients also exhibit temporally limited retrograde amnesia for factual information from the several years preceding the onset of memory impairment. Remote memory for factual knowledge (from 11-30 years before amnesia) is intact. The results show that the hippocampal region supports semantic memory as well as episodic memory and that its role in the acquisition and storage of semantic knowledge is time limited.
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