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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Mar 31;106(13):5365-70. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0900289106. Epub 2009 Mar 16.

Medial temporal theta state before an event predicts episodic encoding success in humans.

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Center for Advanced Imaging and Department of Neurology, Otto von Guericke University, Leipziger Strasse 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany.


We report a human electrophysiological brain state that predicts successful memory for events before they occur. Using magnetoencephalographic recordings of brain activity during episodic memory encoding, we show that amplitudes of theta oscillations shortly preceding the onsets of words were higher for later-recalled than for later-forgotten words. Furthermore, single-trial analyses revealed that recall rate in all 24 participants tested increased as a function of increasing prestimulus theta amplitude. This positive correlation was independent of whether participants were preparing for semantic or phonemic stimulus processing, thus likely signifying a memory-related theta state rather than a preparatory task set. Source analysis located this theta state to the medial temporal lobe, a region known to be critical for encoding and recall. These findings provide insight into state-related aspects of memory formation in humans, and open a perspective for improving memory through theta-related brain states.

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