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Cortical regions recruited for complex active-learning strategies and action planning exhibit rapid reactivation during memory retrieval.


Memory retrieval can involve activity in the same sensory cortical regions involved in perception of the original event, and this neural "reactivation" has been suggested as an important mechanism of memory retrieval. However, it is still unclear if fragments of experience other than sensory information are retained and later reactivated during retrieval. For example, learning in non-laboratory settings generally involves active exploration of memoranda, thus requiring the generation of action plans for behavior and the use of strategies deployed to improve subsequent memory performance. Is information pertaining to action planning and strategic processing retained and reactivated during retrieval? To address this question, we compared ERP correlates of memory retrieval for objects that had been studied in an active manner involving action planning and strategic processing to those for objects that had been studied passively. Memory performance was superior for actively studied objects, and unique ERP retrieval correlates for these objects were identified when subjects remembered the specific spatial locations at which objects were studied. Early-onset frontal shifts in ERP correlates of retrieval were noted for these objects, which parallel the recruitment of frontal cortex during learning object locations previously identified using fMRI with the same paradigm. Notably, ERPs during recall for items studied with a specific viewing strategy localized to the same supplementary motor cortex region previously identified with fMRI when this strategy was implemented during study, suggesting rapid reactivation of regions directly involved in strategic action planning. Collectively, these results implicate neural populations involved in learning in important retrieval functions, even for those populations involved in strategic control and action planning. Notably, these episodic features are not generally reported during recollective experiences, suggesting that reactivation is a more general property of memory retrieval that extends beyond those fragments of perceptual information that might be needed to re-live the past.