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Neuron. 2012 Jul 12;75(1):168-79. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.05.010.

Hippocampal and ventral medial prefrontal activation during retrieval-mediated learning supports novel inference.

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Department of Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Memory enables flexible use of past experience to inform new behaviors. Although leading theories hypothesize that this fundamental flexibility results from the formation of integrated memory networks relating multiple experiences, the neural mechanisms that support memory integration are not well understood. Here, we demonstrate that retrieval-mediated learning, whereby prior event details are reinstated during encoding of related experiences, supports participants' ability to infer relationships between distinct events that share content. Furthermore, we show that activation changes in a functionally coupled hippocampal and ventral medial prefrontal cortical circuit track the formation of integrated memories and successful inferential memory performance. These findings characterize the respective roles of these regions in retrieval-mediated learning processes that support relational memory network formation and inferential memory in the human brain. More broadly, these data reveal fundamental mechanisms through which memory representations are constructed into prospectively useful formats.

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