The medial temporal lobes (MTLs) are critical for episodic memory but the functions of MTL subregions are controversial. According to memory strength theory, MTL subregions collectively support declarative memory in a graded manner. In contrast, other theories assert that MTL subregions support functionally distinct processes. For instance, one view is that perirhinal cortex (PRc) processes item information, parahippocampal cortex (PHc) processes context information, and the hippocampus binds item and context. Here, we report two experiments that tested competing predictions from these models. In these studies, subjects encoded color–word associations by imagining color either as a contextual association (context detail condition) or as a feature of the item to be encoded (item detail condition). Results showed that encoding color information as an item detail improved source recognition in amnesic patients with recollection deficits. Furthermore, event-related fMRI data from healthy subjects revealed PRc activation associated with successful retrieval of item details, whereas activation in the hippocampus and PHc was associated with recollection-based source retrieval. The qualitatively different patterns of results observed in PRc and hippocampus/PHc are inconsistent with a memory strength account and are consistent with the idea that different MTL regions process different types of episodic information.

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