This paper reviews the involvement of the parietal cortex and the hippocampus in three kinds of spatial memory tasks which all require a memory of a previously experienced movement in space. The first task compared, by means of positron emission tomography (PET) scan techniques, the production, in darkness, of self–paced saccades (SAC) with the reproduction, in darkness, of a previously learned sequence of saccades to visual targets (SEQ). The results show that a bilateral increase of activity was seen in the depth of the intraparietal sulcus and the medial superior parietal cortex (superior parietal gyrus and precuneus) together with the frontal sulcus but only in the SEQ task, which involved memory of the previously seen targets and possibly also motor memory.
The second task is the vestibular memory contingent task, which requires that the subject makes, in darkness, a saccade to the remembered position of a visual target after a passively imposed whole–body rotation. Deficits in this task, which involves ‘vestibular memory’, were found predominantly in patients with focal vascular lesions in the parieto–insular (vestibular) cortex, the supplementary motor area–supplementary eye field area, and the prefrontal cortex.
The third task requires mental navigation from the memory of a previously learned route in a real environment (the city of Orsay in France). A PET scan study has revealed that when subjects were asked to remember visual landmarks there was a bilateral activation of the middle hippocampal regions, left inferior temporal gyrus, left hippocampal regions, precentral gyrus and posterior cingulate gyrus. If the subjects were asked to remember the route, and their movements along this route, bilateral activation of the dorsolateral cortex, posterior hippocampal areas, posterior cingulate gyrus, supplementary motor areas, right middle hippocampal areas, left precuneus, middle occipital gyrus, fusiform gyrus and lateral premotor area was found. Subtraction between the two conditions reduced the activated areas to the left hippocampus, precuneus and insula.
These data suggest that the hippocampus and parietal cortex are both involved in the dynamic aspects of spatial memory, for which the name ’topokinetic memory’ is proposed. These dynamic aspects could both overlap and be different from those involved in the cartographic and static aspects of ‘topographic’ memory.