Scientists Say: Hippocampus | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Hippocampus

This part of the brain gets its name from a fish
May 8, 2017 — 6:50 am EST

The curling red structure in this picture is the hippocampus, an area of the brain essential for memory.


Hippocampus (noun, “HIP-oh-CAMP-us”, plural “HIP-oh-CAMP-ee)

This brain area is important for forming new memories. There is a hippocampus on either side of your brain. Each forms a curl near the middle of the brain that curves up and around. The curl of the hippocampus reminded the scientists who named it of a seahorse. In Greek, “hippocampus” roughly translates to “seahorse.”

hippocampus gif
The red curls in this image are the hippocampi.
Anatomography/Life Science Databases (CC-BY-SA 2.1-jp)

The hippocampi are required for forming new memories. Scientists found out just how essential they are from a man named Henry Molaison. He’s also known as patient H.M. Molaison had both of his hippocampi removed in 1957. The surgery was meant to stop him from having seizures. But it left him without the ability to form new memories. Scientists studied H.M.’s memory until his death in 2008. His brain has been preserved for more studies.

In a sentence

As part of its job forming memories, the hippocampus helps us to navigate new neighborhoods.

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Power Words

(more about Power Words)

hippocampus     A seahorse-shaped region of the brain. It is thought to be the center of emotion, memory and the involuntary nervous system.

navigate     To find one’s way through a landscape using visual cues, sensory information (like scents), magnetic information (like an internal compass) or other techniques.

seizure     A sudden surge of electrical activity within the brain. Seizures are often a symptom of epilepsy and may cause dramatic spasming of muscles.