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Gamma oscillations and episodic memory

Griffiths & Jensen (2023). Trends in Neurosciences

Enhanced gamma oscillatory activity (30–80 Hz) accompanies the successful formation and retrieval of episodic memories. While this co-occurrence is well documented, the mechanistic contributions of gamma oscillatory activity to episodic memory remain unclear. Here, we review how gamma oscillatory activity may facilitate spike timing-dependent plasticity, neural communication, and sequence encoding/retrieval, thereby ensuring the successful formation and/or retrieval of an episodic memory. Based on the evidence reviewed, we propose that multiple, distinct forms of gamma oscillation can be found within the canonical gamma band, each of which has a complementary role in the neural processes listed above. Further exploration of these theories using causal manipulations may be key to elucidating the relevance of gamma oscillatory activity to episodic memory.

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Imperceptible gamma-band sensory stimulation enhances episodic memory retrieval

Griffiths, Weinert, Jensen & Staudigl (2023). bioRxiv

Enhanced gamma activity (30-100Hz) coincides with the successful recall of episodic memories, but it remains unknown whether this oscillatory activity is a cause or a consequence of the retrieval process. To address this question, we asked human participants to complete a paired associates memory task while undergoing sensory stimulation (at 65Hz, 43.3Hz and 32.5Hz). We observed that 65Hz and 32.5Hz sensory stimulation enhances recall compared to a baseline condition without stimulation. No similar effect was observed following 43.3Hz stimulation. Notably, while almost all participants could perceive 32.5Hz and 43.3Hz sensory stimulation, only a small proportion of participants (∼10%) could perceive the 65Hz visual flicker, suggesting 65Hz sensory stimulation acts as an imperceptible intervention to enhance recall. To understand the dual action of 65Hz and 32.5Hz sensory stimulation on recall, we built three pyramidal-interneuronal network gamma (PING) models and drove them using the same stimulation protocols as in the behavioural task. The behavioural results could be reproduced by stimulating an endogenous ∼32Hz oscillation, but not by stimulating an endogenous ∼65Hz oscillation nor by stimulating a network without an endogenous oscillation. These results suggest that imperceptible 65Hz sensory stimulation enhances recall by harmonically entraining an endogenous ∼32.5Hz oscillation. Based on these findings, we propose that “slow” gamma oscillations play a causal role in episodic memory retrieval.

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Rhythmic interactions between the mediodorsal thalamus and prefrontal cortex precede human visual perception

Griffiths, Zaehle, Repplinger, Schmitt, Voges, Hanslmayr, & Staudigl (2022). Nature Communications

The thalamus is much more than a simple sensory relay. High-order thalamic nuclei, such as the mediodorsal thalamus, exert a profound influence over animal cognition. However, given the difficulty of directly recording from the thalamus in humans, next-to-nothing is known about thalamic and thalamocortical contributions to human cognition. To address this, we analysed simultaneously-recorded thalamic iEEG and whole-head MEG in six patients (four female, two male; plus MEG recordings from twelve healthy controls) as they completed a visual detection task. We observed that the phase of both ongoing mediodorsal thalamic and prefrontal low-frequency activity was predictive of perceptual performance. Critically however, mediodorsal thalamic activity mediated prefrontal contributions to perceptual performance. These results suggest that it is thalamocortical interactions, rather than cortical activity alone, that is predictive of upcoming perceptual performance and, more generally, highlights the importance of accounting for the thalamus when theorising about cortical contributions to human cognition.

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Disentangling neocortical alpha/beta and hippocampal theta/gamma oscillations in human episodic memory formation

Griffiths, Martín-Buro, Staresina, & Hanslmayr (2021). NeuroImage.

To form an episodic memory, we must first process a vast amount of sensory information about the to-be-encoded event and then bind these sensory representations together to form a coherent memory trace. While these two cognitive capabilities are thought to have two distinct neural origins, with neocortical alpha/beta oscillations supporting information representation and hippocampal theta-gamma phase-amplitude coupling supporting mnemonic binding, evidence for a dissociation between these two neural markers is conspicuously absent. To address this, seventeen human participants completed an associative memory task that first involved processing information about three sequentially-presented stimuli, and then binding these stimuli together into a coherent memory trace, all the while undergoing MEG recordings. We found that decreases in neocortical alpha/beta power during sequence perception, but not mnemonic binding, correlated with enhanced memory performance. Hippocampal theta/gamma phase-amplitude coupling, however, showed the opposite pattern; increases during mnemonic binding (but not sequence perception) correlated with enhanced memory performance. These results demonstrate that memory-related decreases in neocortical alpha/beta power and memory-related increases in hippocampal theta/gamma phase-amplitude coupling arise at distinct stages of the memory formation process. We speculate that this temporal dissociation reflects a functional dissociation in which neocortical alpha/beta oscillations could support the processing of incoming information relevant to the memory, while hippocampal theta-gamma phase-amplitude coupling could support the binding of this information into a coherent memory trace.

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Alpha/beta power decreases during episodic memory formation predict the magnitude of alpha/beta power decreases during subsequent retrieval

Griffiths, Martín-Buro, Staresina, Hanslmayr & Staudigl (2021). Neuropsychologia.

Episodic memory retrieval is characterised by the vivid reinstatement of information about a personally-experienced event. Growing evidence suggests that this reinstatement is supported by reductions in the spectral power of alpha/beta activity. Given that the amount of information that can be recalled depends on the amount of information that was originally encoded, information-based accounts of alpha/beta activity would suggest that retrieval-related alpha/beta power decreases similarly depend upon decreases in alpha/beta power during encoding. To test this hypothesis, seventeen human participants completed a sequence-learning task while undergoing concurrent MEG recordings. Regression-based analyses were then used to estimate how alpha/beta power decreases during encoding predicted alpha/beta power decreases during retrieval on a trial-by-trial basis. When subjecting these parameter estimates to group-level analysis, we find evidence to suggest that retrieval-related alpha/beta (7-15Hz) power decreases fluctuate as a function of encoding-related alpha/beta power decreases. These results suggest that retrieval-related alpha/beta power decreases are contingent on the decrease in alpha/beta power that arose during encoding. Subsequent analysis uncovered no evidence to suggest that these alpha/beta power decreases reflect stimulus identity, indicating that the contingency between encoding- and retrieval-related alpha/beta power reflects the reinstatement of a neurophysiological operation, rather than neural representation, during episodic memory retrieval.

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Event conjunction: How the hippocampus integrates episodic memories across event boundaries

Griffiths & Fuentemilla (2020). Hippocampus.

Our lives are a continuous stream of experience. Our episodic memories on the other hand have a definitive beginning, middle, and end. Theories of event segmentation suggest that salient changes in our environment produce event boundaries which partition the past from the present and, as a result, produce discretised memories. However, event boundaries cannot completely discretise two memories; any shared conceptual link will lead to the rapid integration of these memories. Here, we present a new framework inspired by electrophysiological research that resolves this apparent contradiction. At its heart, the framework proposes that hippocampal theta‐gamma coupling maintains a highly abstract model of an ongoing event and serves to encode this model as an episodic memory. When a second but related event begins, this theta‐gamma model is rapidly reconstructed within the hippocampus where new details of the second event can be appended to the existing event model. The event conjunction framework is the first electrophysiological explanation of how event memories can be formed at, and integrated across, event boundaries.

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Alpha/beta power decreases track the fidelity of stimulus-specific information

Griffiths, Mayhew, Mullinger, Jorge, Charest, Wimber & Hanslmayr (2019). eLife.

Massed synchronised neuronal firing is detrimental to information processing. When networks of task-irrelevant neurons fire in unison, they mask the signal generated by task-critical neurons. On a macroscopic level, such synchronisation can contribute to alpha/beta (8–30 Hz) oscillations. Reducing the amplitude of these oscillations, therefore, may enhance information processing. Here, we test this hypothesis. Twenty-one participants completed an associative memory task while undergoing simultaneous EEG-fMRI recordings. Using representational similarity analysis, we quantified the amount of stimulus-specific information represented within the BOLD signal on every trial. When correlating this metric with concurrently-recorded alpha/beta power, we found a significant negative correlation which indicated that as post-stimulus alpha/beta power decreased, stimulus-specific information increased. Critically, we found this effect in three unique tasks: visual perception, auditory perception, and visual memory retrieval, indicating that this phenomenon transcends both stimulus modality and cognitive task. These results indicate that alpha/beta power decreases parametrically track the fidelity of both externally-presented and internally-generated stimulus-specific information represented within the cortex.

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Directional coupling of slow and fast hippocampal gamma with neocortical alpha/beta oscillations in human episodic memory

Griffiths, Parish, Roux, Michelmann, van der Plas, Kolibius, Chelvarajah, Rollings, Sawlani, Hamer, Gollwitzer, Kreiselmeyer, Staresina, Wimber & Hanslmayr (2019). PNAS.

Episodic memories hinge upon our ability to process a wide range of multisensory information and bind this information into a coherent, memorable representation. On a neural level, these 2 processes are thought to be supported by neocortical alpha/beta desynchronization and hippocampal theta/gamma synchronization, respectively. Intuitively, these 2 processes should couple to successfully create and retrieve episodic memories, yet this hypothesis has not been tested empirically. We address this by analyzing human intracranial electroencephalogram data recorded during 2 associative memory tasks. We find that neocortical alpha/beta (8 to 20 Hz) power decreases reliably precede and predict hippocampal “fast” gamma (60 to 80 Hz) power increases during episodic memory formation; during episodic memory retrieval, however, hippocampal “slow” gamma (40 to 50 Hz) power increases reliably precede and predict later neocortical alpha/beta power decreases. We speculate that this coupling reflects the flow of information from the neocortex to the hippocampus during memory formation, and hippocampal pattern completion inducing information reinstatement in the neocortex during memory retrieval.

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Opposing effects of reward and punishment on human vigor

Griffiths & Beierholm (2017). Scientific Reports.

The vigor with which humans and animals engage in a task is often a determinant of the likelihood of the task’s success. An influential theoretical model suggests that the speed and rate at which responses are made should depend on the availability of rewards and punishments. While vigor facilitates the gathering of rewards in a bountiful environment, there is an incentive to slow down when punishments are forthcoming so as to decrease the rate of punishments, in conflict with the urge to perform fast to escape punishment. Previous experiments confirmed the former, leaving the latter unanswered. We tested the influence of punishment in an experiment involving economic incentives and contrasted this with reward related behavior on the same task. We found that behavior corresponded with the theoretical model; while instantaneous threat of punishment caused subjects to increase the vigor of their response, subjects’ response times would slow as the overall rate of punishment increased. We quantitatively show that this is in direct contrast to increases in vigor in the face of increased overall reward rates. These results highlight the opposed effects of rewards and punishments and provide further evidence for their roles in the variety of types of human decisions.

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Brain oscillations track the formation of episodic memories in the real world

Griffiths, Mazaheri, Debener & Hanslmayr (2016). NeuroImage.

Despite the well-known influence of environmental context on episodic memory, little has been done to increase contextual richness within the lab. This leaves a blind spot lingering over the neuronal correlates of episodic memory formation in day-to-day life. To address this, we presented participants with a series of words to memorise along a pre-designated route across campus while a mobile EEG system acquired ongoing neural activity. Replicating lab-based subsequent memory effects (SMEs), we identified significant low to mid frequency power decreases (<30 Hz), including beta power decreases over the left inferior frontal gyrus. When investigating the oscillatory correlates of temporal and spatial context binding, we found that items strongly bound to spatial context exhibited significantly greater theta power decreases than items strongly bound to temporal context. These findings expand upon lab-based studies by demonstrating the influence of real world contextual factors that underpin memory formation.

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