Bioethics Blogs

The [Sea] Monster Inside Me

By Sunidhi Ramesh
A side-by-side comparison of a sea horse and the human
hippocampus (Greek for sea monster).
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

In 1587, Venetian anatomist Julius Aranzi gave a name to the intricate, hallmark structure located in the medial temporal lobe of the human brain—the hippocampus, Greek for sea monster.

The hippocampus, often said to resemble a sea horse, has since been identified as a key player in the consolidation of information (from short-term memory to long-term memory) and in the spatial memory that allows for our day-to-day navigation. Because of its importance in learning and memory, hippocampal damage is often a culprit in varying forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, short-term memory loss, and amnesia.
Since its discovery, the hippocampus has been the subject of extensive research ranging from understanding diet and exercise as cognitive modulators to demonstrating the three-step encoding, storage, and retrieval process that the structure so consistently performs. In this time, it has become apparent that the hippocampus is not only a vital structure for normal human functioning, but it is also necessary to what makes us uniquely human.
In the center of this hippocampal research are place cells, individual neurons in the hippocampus that become active when an animal “enters a particular cell-specific place in its environment.” These cells are able to collect distinctive components of an organism’s surroundings and then organize their outputs in a way that is useful for the brain to understand its own location in space.
The hippocampus, then, is a model system for neural information coordination.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.