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Engrams and circuits crucial for systems consolidation of a memory

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Science  07 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6333, pp. 73-78
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam6808

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The network of memory consolidation

Memories are thought to be formed in the hippocampus and later moved to the neocortex for long-term storage. However, little is known about the mechanisms that underlie the formation and maturation of neocortical memories and their interaction with the hippocampal network. Kitamura et al. discovered that at the onset of learning, neurons for contextual fear memory are quickly produced in the prefrontal cortex. This process depends on the activity of afferents from both the hippocampus and the amygdala. Over time, the prefrontal neurons consolidate their role in memory expression. In contrast, the hippocampal neurons slowly lose this function.

Science, this issue p. 73

Abstract

Episodic memories initially require rapid synaptic plasticity within the hippocampus for their formation and are gradually consolidated in neocortical networks for permanent storage. However, the engrams and circuits that support neocortical memory consolidation have thus far been unknown. We found that neocortical prefrontal memory engram cells, which are critical for remote contextual fear memory, were rapidly generated during initial learning through inputs from both the hippocampal–entorhinal cortex network and the basolateral amygdala. After their generation, the prefrontal engram cells, with support from hippocampal memory engram cells, became functionally mature with time. Whereas hippocampal engram cells gradually became silent with time, engram cells in the basolateral amygdala, which were necessary for fear memory, were maintained. Our data provide new insights into the functional reorganization of engrams and circuits underlying systems consolidation of memory.

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