Scientists Say: Hippocampus

This part of the brain gets its name from a fish


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.”

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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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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