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Human episodic memory retrieval is accompanied by a neural contiguity effect

Folkerts, Sarah and Rutishauser, Ueli and Howard, Marc W. (2018) Human episodic memory retrieval is accompanied by a neural contiguity effect. Journal of Neuroscience, 38 (17). pp. 4200-4211. ISSN 0270-6474. PMCID PMC5963851.

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Cognitive psychologists have long hypothesized that experiences are encoded in a temporal context that changes gradually over time. When an episodic memory is retrieved, the state of context is recovered—a jump back in time. We recorded from single units in the MTL of epilepsy patients performing an item recognition task. The population vector changed gradually over minutes during presentation of the list. When a probe from the list was remembered with high confidence, the population vector reinstated the temporal context of the original presentation of that probe during study—a neural contiguity effect that provides a possible mechanism for behavioral contiguity effects. This pattern was only observed for well-remembered probes; old probes that were not well-remembered showed an anti-contiguity effect. These results constitute the first direct evidence that recovery of an episodic memory in humans is associated with retrieval of a gradually-changing state of temporal context—a neural “jump-back-in-time” that parallels the act of remembering.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Rutishauser, Ueli0000-0002-9207-7069
Howard, Marc W.0000-0002-1478-1237
Additional Information:© 2018 the authors. Beginning six months after publication the Work will be made freely available to the public on SfN’s website to copy, distribute, or display under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license ( Received: 15 August 2017; Revised: 4 March 2018; Accepted: 12 March 2018; Published: 3 April 2018. The authors acknowledge helpful discussions with Nigel Stoddard, Inder Singh, Zoran Tiganj, Amy Criss, and Rosie Cowell. This work was supported by NIH (R01EB022864 and R01MH112169 to M.W.H. and R01MH110831 and U01NS103792 to U.R.), the National Science Foundation (CAREER Award BCS-1554105 to U.R.), and a Memory and Cognitive Disorders Award from the McKnight Foundation for Neuroscience (to U.R.). Author contributions: S.F., U.R., and M.W.H. designed research; S.F., U.R., and M.W.H. performed research; S.F., U.R., and M.W.H. analyzed data; S.F., U.R., and M.W.H. wrote the paper. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
McKnight FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:contiguity effect; episodic memory; recollection
Issue or Number:17
PubMed Central ID:PMC5963851
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180409-150027286
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Official Citation:Human Episodic Memory Retrieval Is Accompanied by a Neural Contiguity Effect Sarah Folkerts, Ueli Rutishauser, Marc W. Howard Journal of Neuroscience 25 April 2018, 38 (17) 4200-4211; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2312-17.2018
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:85696
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:09 Apr 2018 22:24
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 19:34

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