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      Memory engrams: Recalling the past and imagining the future

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      Science
      American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

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          Abstract

          In 1904, Richard Semon introduced the term “engram” to describe the neural substrate for storing memories. An experience, Semon proposed, activates a subset of cells that undergo off-line, persistent chemical and/or physical changes to become an engram. Subsequent reactivation of this engram induces memory retrieval. Although Semon’s contributions were largely ignored in his lifetime, new technologies that allow researchers to image and manipulate the brain at the level of individual neurons has reinvigorated engram research. We review recent progress in studying engrams, including an evaluation of evidence for the existence of engrams, the importance of intrinsic excitability and synaptic plasticity in engrams, and the lifetime of an engram. Together, these findings are beginning to define an engram as the basic unit of memory.

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          Most cited references187

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          Synaptic plasticity and memory: an evaluation of the hypothesis.

          Changing the strength of connections between neurons is widely assumed to be the mechanism by which memory traces are encoded and stored in the central nervous system. In its most general form, the synaptic plasticity and memory hypothesis states that "activity-dependent synaptic plasticity is induced at appropriate synapses during memory formation and is both necessary and sufficient for the information storage underlying the type of memory mediated by the brain area in which that plasticity is observed." We outline a set of criteria by which this hypothesis can be judged and describe a range of experimental strategies used to investigate it. We review both classical and newly discovered properties of synaptic plasticity and stress the importance of the neural architecture and synaptic learning rules of the network in which it is embedded. The greater part of the article focuses on types of memory mediated by the hippocampus, amygdala, and cortex. We conclude that a wealth of data supports the notion that synaptic plasticity is necessary for learning and memory, but that little data currently supports the notion of sufficiency.
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            Pattern separation in the dentate gyrus and CA3 of the hippocampus.

            Theoretical models have long pointed to the dentate gyrus as a possible source of neuronal pattern separation. In agreement with predictions from these models, we show that minimal changes in the shape of the environment in which rats are exploring can substantially alter correlated activity patterns among place-modulated granule cells in the dentate gyrus. When the environments are made more different, new cell populations are recruited in CA3 but not in the dentate gyrus. These results imply a dual mechanism for pattern separation in which signals from the entorhinal cortex can be decorrelated both by changes in coincidence patterns in the dentate gyrus and by recruitment of nonoverlapping cell assemblies in CA3.
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              Optogenetic stimulation of a hippocampal engram activates fear memory recall

              A specific memory is thought to be encoded by a sparse population of neurons 1,2 . These neurons can be tagged during learning for subsequent identification 3 and manipulation 4,5,6 . Moreover, their ablation or inactivation results in reduced memory expression, suggesting their necessity in mnemonic processes. However, a critical question of sufficiency remains: can one elicit the behavioral output of a specific memory by directly activating a population of neurons that was active during learning? Here we show that optogenetic reactivation of hippocampal neurons activated during fear conditioning is sufficient to induce freezing behavior. We labeled a population of hippocampal dentate gyrus neurons activated during fear learning with channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) 7,8 and later optically reactivated these neurons in a different context. The mice showed increased freezing only upon light stimulation, indicating light-induced fear memory recall. This freezing was not detected in non-fear conditioned mice expressing ChR2 in a similar proportion of cells, nor in fear conditioned mice with cells labeled by EYFP instead of ChR2. Finally, activation of cells labeled in a context not associated with fear did not evoke freezing in mice that were previously fear conditioned in a different context, suggesting that light-induced fear memory recall is context-specific. Together, our findings indicate that activating a sparse but specific ensemble of hippocampal neurons that contribute to a memory engram is sufficient for the recall of that memory. Moreover, our experimental approach offers a general method of mapping cellular populations bearing memory engrams.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Science
                Science
                American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
                0036-8075
                1095-9203
                January 02 2020
                January 03 2020
                January 02 2020
                January 03 2020
                : 367
                : 6473
                : eaaw4325
                Article
                10.1126/science.aaw4325
                7577560
                31896692
                c2482c68-4845-4cea-a948-6f87da3d72fb
                © 2020

                http://www.sciencemag.org/about/science-licenses-journal-article-reuse


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