Hippocampal lesions produce memory deficits, but the exact function of the hippocampus remains obscure. Evidence is presented that its role in memory may be ancillary to physiological regulation. Molecular studies demonstrate that the hippocampus is a primary target for ligands that reflect body physiology, including ion balance and blood pressure, immunity, pain, reproductive status, satiety and stress. Hippocampal receptors are functional, probably accessible to their ligands, and mediate physiological and cognitive changes. This argues that an early role of the hippocampus may have been in sensing soluble molecules (termed here 'enteroception') in blood and cerebrospinal fluid, perhaps reflecting a common evolutionary origin with the olfactory system ('exteroception'). Functionally, hippocampal enteroception may reflect feedback control; evidence is reviewed that the hippocampus modulates body physiology, including the activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, blood pressure, immunity, and reproductive function. It is suggested that the hippocampus operates, in parallel with the amygdala, to modulate body physiology in response to cognitive stimuli. Hippocampal outputs are predominantly inhibitory on downstream neuroendocrine activity; increased synaptic efficacy in the hippocampus (e.g. long-term potentiation) could facilitate throughput inhibition. This may have implications for the role of the hippocampus and long-term potentiation in memory.
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