Skip to main content

The hippocampal region is necessary for text comprehension and memorization: a combined VBM/DTI study in neuropsychological patients


According to the Construction-Integration model (Kintsch 1988; Kintsch 1998), two forms of representation are activated during the reading and the comprehension of a text: 1) the text base, which includes semantic propositions and 2) the situation model, corresponding to the integration of the information contained in the text to the memories and knowledge of the reader. Functional neuroimaging studies in healthy subjects have shown that the text base is underpinned by frontal regions and lateral temporal regions whereas the situation model would rather depend on the posterior cingulate cortex, the precuneus and other regions depending on the dimension studied. However, the brain regions highlighted so far were only involved in comprehension and not necessary for this cognitive ability. For the first time, we explored the brain structures necessary to understand texts using a combined VBM/DTI approach in neuropsychological patients with whom we obtained comprehension scores (text base and situation model) after the reading of narrative texts. To our great surprise and contrary to our hypotheses, which were based on the results of functional neuroimaging studies, our own results show that it is the hippocampal region that is necessary to activate and memorize/remember the text base and the situation model. The highlighting of a link between the integrity of a portion of the uncinate fasciculus which is well known to play a role in semantic processing and the performance scores of the text base suggests that the hippocampal region is necessary not only for the retrieval of the text base and of the situation model thanks to episodic memory, but also for the activation of the text base during the reading and the comprehension of a text.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2



Diffusion Tensor Imaging.


Fractional Anisotropy.


false discovery rate.


family-wise error.


Grey Matter.


Montreal Neurological Institute.


Voxel-based morphometry.


  • Aboud, K. S., Bailey, S. K., Petrill, S. A., & Cutting, L. E. (2016). Comprehending text versus reading words in young readers with varying reading ability: Distinct patterns of functional connectivity from common processing hubs. Developmental Science, 19(4), 632–656.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aggleton, J. P., Pralus, A., Nelson, A. J., & Hornberger, M. (2016). Thalamic pathology and memory loss in early Alzheimer’s disease: Moving the focus from the medial temporal lobe to Papez circuit. Brain, 139(7), 1877–1890.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ashburner, J., & Friston, K. J. (2005). Unified segmentation. NeuroImage, 26(3), 839–851.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernard, F. A., Bullmore, E. T., Graham, K. S., Thompson, S. A., Hodges, J. R., & Fletcher, P. C. (2004). The hippocampal region is involved in successful recognition of both remote and recent famous faces. Neuroimage, 22(4), 1704–1714.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernard, F. A., Desgranges, B., Eustache, F., & Baron, J. C. (2007). Neural correlates of age-related verbal episodic memory decline: A PET study with combined subtraction/correlation analysis. Neurobiology of Aging, 28(10), 1568–1576.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Binney, R. J., Embleton, K. V., Jefferies, E., Parker, G. J., & Lambon Ralph, M. A. (2010). The ventral and inferolateral aspects of the anterior temporal lobe are crucial in semantic memory: Evidence from a novel direct comparison of distortion-corrected fMRI, rTMS, and semantic dementia. Cerebral Cortex, 20(11), 2728–2738.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cabeza, R., & Nyberg, L. (2000). Imaging cognition II: An empirical review of 275 PET and fMRI studies. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 12(1), 1–47.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Catani, M., Mesulam, M. M., Jakobsen, E., Malik, F., Martersteck, A., Wieneke, C., Thompson, C. K., Thiebaut de Schotten, M., Dell’Acqua, F., Weintraub, S., & Rogalski, E. (2013). A novel frontal pathway underlies verbal fluency in primary progressive aphasia. Brain, 136(8), 2619–2628.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chabran, E., Roquet, D., Gounot, D., Sourty, M., Armspach, J. P., & Blanc, F. (2018). Functional disconnectivity during inter-task resting state in dementia with Lewy bodies. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 45(1–2), 105–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chesneau, S. (2012). T.C.T. Test de compréhension de textes 16-80 ans. Paris, France: Mot à Mot.

  • Chesneau, S., Roy, M.-C., & Ska, B. (2007). Évaluation de la compréhension de textes narratifs construits selon un modèle théorique. Canadian journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, 31(2), 83–93.

    Google Scholar 

  • Covington, N. V., & Duff, M. C. (2016). Expanding the language network: Direct contributions from the hippocampus. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(12), 869–870.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Desgranges, B., Baron, J. C., de la Sayette, V., Petit-Taboué, M. C., Benali, K., Landeau, B., et al. (1998). The neural substrates of memory systems impairment in Alzheimer's disease. A PET study of resting brain glucose utilization. Brain: A Journal of Neurology, 121(4), 611–631.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dubois, B., Feldman, H. H., Jacova, C., DeKosky, S. T., Barberger-Gateau, P., Cummings, J., et al. (2007). Research criteria for the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease: Revising the NINCDS–ADRDA criteria. The Lancet Neurology, 6(8), 734–746.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferstl, E. C., & von Cramon, D. Y. (2001). The role of coherence and cohesion in text comprehension: An event-related fMRI study. Cognitive Brain Research, 11(3), 325–340.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferstl, E. C., & von Cramon, D. Y. (2007). Time, space and emotion: fMRI reveals content-specific activation during text comprehension. Neuroscience Letters, 427(3), 159–164.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Friston, K. (2010). The free-energy principle: A unified brain theory? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11(2), 127–138.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gernsbacher, M. A. (1997). Two decades of structure building. Discourse Processes, 23(3), 265–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Good, C. D., Johnsrude, I. S., Ashburner, J., Henson, R. N., Friston, K. J., & Frackowiak, R. S. (2001). A voxel-based morphometric study of ageing in 465 normal adult human brains. Neuroimage, 14(1), 21–36.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Graesser, A. C., Singer, M., & Trabasso, T. (1994). Constructing inferences during narrative text comprehension. Psychological Review, 101(3), 371–395.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Helder, A., van den Broek, P., Karlsson, J., & Van Leijenhorst, L. (2017). Neural correlates of coherence-break detection during Reading of narratives. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1–17.

  • Höglinger, G. U., Respondek, G., Stamelou, M., Kurz, C., Josephs, K. A., Lang, A. E., Mollenhauer, B., Müller, U., Nilsson, C., Whitwell, J. L., Arzberger, T., Englund, E., Gelpi, E., Giese, A., Irwin, D. J., Meissner, W. G., Pantelyat, A., Rajput, A., van Swieten, J. C., Troakes, C., Antonini, A., Bhatia, K. P., Bordelon, Y., Compta, Y., Corvol, J. C., Colosimo, C., Dickson, D. W., Dodel, R., Ferguson, L., Grossman, M., Kassubek, J., Krismer, F., Levin, J., Lorenzl, S., Morris, H. R., Nestor, P., Oertel, W. H., Poewe, W., Rabinovici, G., Rowe, J. B., Schellenberg, G. D., Seppi, K., van Eimeren, T., Wenning, G. K., Boxer, A. L., Golbe, L. I., Litvan, I., & for the Movement Disorder Society-endorsed PSP Study Group. (2017). Clinical diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy: The movement disorder society criteria. Movement Disorders, 32(6), 853–864.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kintsch, W. (1988). The role of knowledge in discourse comprehension: A construction-integration model. Psychological Review, 95(2), 163–182.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kintsch, W. (Ed.). (1998). Comprehension: A paradigm for cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kintsch, W., & Van Dijk, T. A. (1978). Toward a model of text comprehension and production. Psychological Review, 85(5), 363–394.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kuperberg, G. R., Lakshmanan, B. M., Caplan, D. N., & Holcomb, P. J. (2006). Making sense of discourse: An fMRI study of causal inferencing across sentences. NeuroImage, 33(1), 343–361.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Manns, J. R., Hopkins, R. O., & Squire, L. R. (2003). Semantic memory and the human hippocampus. Neuron, 38(1), 127–133.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mano, Y., Harada, T., Sugiura, M., Saito, D. N., & Sadato, N. (2009). Perspective-taking as part of narrative comprehension: A functional MRI study. Neuropsychologia, 47(3), 813–824.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mason, R. A., & Just, M. A. (2004). How the brain processes causal inferences in text: A theoretical account of generation and integration component processes utilizing both cerebral hemispheres. Psychological Science, 15(1), 1–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McKeith, I. G., Boeve, B. F., Dickson, D. W., Halliday, G., Taylor, J. P., Weintraub, D., et al. (2017). Diagnosis and management of dementia with Lewy bodies: Fourth consensus report of the DLB consortium. Neurology, 89(1), 88–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Moscovitch, M., Cabeza, R., Winocur, G., & Nadel, L. (2016). Episodic memory and beyond: The hippocampus and neocortex in transformation. Annual Review of Psychology, 67, 105–134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • O'Brien, E. J. (1995). Automatic components of discourse comprehension. In R. F. Lorch & E. J. O’Brien (Eds.), Sources of coherence in reading (pp. 159–176). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  • Prat, C. S., Mason, R. A., & Just, M. A. (2012). An fMRI investigation of analogical mapping in metaphor comprehension: The influence of context and individual cognitive capacities on processing demands. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 38(2), 282–294.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Speer, N. K., Reynolds, J. R., Swallow, K. M., & Zacks, J. M. (2009). Reading stories activates neural representations of visual and motor experiences. Psychological Science, 20(8), 989–999.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trabasso, T., van den Broek, P., & Suh, S. Y. (1989). Logical necessity and transitivity of causal relations in stories. Discourse Processes, 12(1), 1–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • van den Broek, P., Young, M., Tzeng, Y., & Linderholm, T. (1999). The landscape model of Reading: Inferences and the online construction of a memory representation. In S. R. Goldman & H. van Oostendorp (Eds.), The construction of mental representations during reading (pp. 71–98). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  • van Dijk, T. A., & Kintsch, W. (Eds.). (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Xu, J., Kemeny, S., Park, G., Frattali, C., & Braun, A. (2005). Language in context: Emergent features of word, sentence, and narrative comprehension. NeuroImage, 25(3), 1002–1015.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yarkoni, T., Speer, N. K., & Zacks, J. M. (2008). Neural substrates of narrative comprehension and memory. NeuroImage, 41(4), 1408–1425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zwaan, R. A., Langston, M. C., & Graesser, A. C. (1995). The construction of situation models in narrative comprehension: An event-indexing model. Psychological Science, 6(5), 292–297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank Corine Marrer for technical assistance with MRI data acquisition and most importantly the patients for their time and effort spent participating in this study.


This research was supported in part by an internal grant from ICube laboratory.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Frédéric A. Bernard.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

The study was approved by the local ethics committee.

Informed consent

All participants provided written informed consent.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hausser, L.P., Bugaud, A., Noblet, V. et al. The hippocampal region is necessary for text comprehension and memorization: a combined VBM/DTI study in neuropsychological patients. Brain Imaging and Behavior 15, 2367–2376 (2021).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Text comprehension
  • Memory
  • MRI
  • Neuropsychological patients