The extended trajectory of hippocampal development: Implications for early memory development and disorder

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Hippocampus has an extended developmental trajectory, with refinements occurring in the trisynaptic circuit until adolescence. While structural change should suggest a protracted course in behavior, some studies find evidence of precocious hippocampal development in the first postnatal year and continuity in memory processes beyond. However, a number of memory functions, including binding and relational inference, can be cortically supported. Evidence from the animal literature suggests that tasks often associated with hippocampus (visual paired comparison, binding of a visuomotor response) can be mediated by structures external to hippocampus. Thus, a complete examination of memory development will have to rule out cortex as a source of early memory competency. We propose that early memory must show properties associated with full function of the trisynaptic circuit to reflect "adult-like" memory function, mainly (1) rapid encoding of contextual details of overlapping patterns, and (2) retention of these details over sleep-dependent delays. A wealth of evidence suggests that these functions are not apparent until 18-24 months, with behavioral discontinuities reflecting shifts in the neural structures subserving memory beginning approximately at this point in development. We discuss the implications of these observations for theories of memory and for identifying and measuring memory function in populations with typical and atypical hippocampal function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-69
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
StatePublished - Apr 2016


  • Atypical populations
  • Cortex
  • Hippocampus
  • Memory development
  • Sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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