Nature Reviews Neuroscience 13, 587-597 (August 2012) | doi:10.1038/nrn3251

OpinionConcept cells: the building blocks of declarative memory functions

Rodrigo Quian Quiroga1  About the author


Intracranial recordings in subjects suffering from intractable epilepsy — made during their evaluation for an eventual surgical removal of the epileptic focus — have allowed the extraordinary opportunity to study the firing of multiple single neurons in awake and behaving human subjects. These studies have shown that neurons in the human medial temporal lobe respond in a remarkably selective and abstract manner to particular persons or objects, such as Jennifer Aniston, Luke Skywalker or the Tower of Pisa. These neurons have been named 'Jennifer Aniston neurons' or, more recently, 'concept cells'. I argue that the sparse, explicit and abstract representation of these neurons is crucial for memory functions, such as the creation of associations and the transition between related concepts that leads to episodic memories and the flow of consciousness.

Author affiliations

  1. Rodrigo Quian Quiroga is at the Department of Engineering, University of Leicester, Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK; and at the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, 39118 Magdeburg, Germany.

Correspondence to: Rodrigo Quian Quiroga1 Email:

Published online 4 July 2012