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Hippocampus. 2006;16(9):704-15.

Dissociating the past from the present in the activity of place cells.

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Institute for Neurophysiology, Charite, Berlin, Germany.


It has been proposed that declarative memories can be dependent on both an episodic and a semantic memory system. While the semantic system deals with factual information devoid of reference to its acquisition, the episodic system, characterized by mental time travel, deals with the unique past experience in which an event took place. Episodic memory is characteristically hippocampus-dependent. Place cells are recorded from the hippocampus of rodents and their firing reflects many of the key characteristics of episodic memory. For example, they encode information about "what" happens "where," as well as temporal information. However, when these features are expressed during an animal's behavior, the neuronal activity could merely be categorizing the present situation and could therefore reflect semantic memory rather than episodic memory. We propose that mental time travel is the key feature of episodic memory and that it should take a form, in the awake animal, similar to the replay of behavioral patterns of activity that has been observed in hippocampus during sleep. Using tasks designed to evoke episodic memory, one should be able to see memory reactivation of behaviorally relevant sequences of activity in the awake animal while recording from hippocampus and other cortical structures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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