The hippocampus is necessary for binding and reconstituting information in relational memory. These essential memory functions are supported by the distinct cytoarchitecture of the hippocampal subfields. Magnetic resonance elastography is an emerging tool that provides sensitive estimates of microstructure vis-à-vis tissue mechanical properties. Here, we report the first in vivo study of human hippocampal subfield viscoelastic stiffness and damping ratio. Stiffness describes resistance of a viscoelastic tissue to a stress and is thought to reflect the relative composition of tissue at the microscale; damping ratio describes relative viscous-to-elastic behavior and is thought to generally reflect microstructural organization. Measures from the subiculum (combined with presubiculum and parasubiculum), cornu ammonis (CA) 1–2, and CA3-dentate gyrus (CA3-DG) were collected in a sample of healthy, cognitively normal men (n = 20, age = 18–33 years). In line with known cytoarchitecture, the subiculum demonstrated the lowest damping ratio, followed by CA3-DG and then combined CA1–CA2. Moreover, damping ratio of the CA3-DG—potentially reflective of number of cells and their connections—predicted relational memory accuracy and alone replicated most of the variance in performance that was explained by the whole hippocampus. Stiffness did not differentiate the hippocampal subfields and was unrelated to task performance in this sample. Viscoelasticity measured with magnetic resonance elastography appears to be sensitive to microstructural properties relevant to specific memory function, even in healthy younger adults, and is a promising tool for future studies of hippocampal structure in aging and related diseases.

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