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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2013 Nov;142(4):1264-76. doi: 10.1037/a0033609. Epub 2013 Jul 8.

Distributed hippocampal patterns that discriminate reward context are associated with enhanced associative binding.

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Center for Learning and Memory.


Recent research indicates that reward-based motivation impacts medial temporal lobe (MTL) encoding processes, leading to enhanced memory for rewarded events. In particular, previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of motivated learning have shown that MTL activation is greater for highly rewarded events, with the degree of reward-related activation enhancement tracking the corresponding behavioral memory advantage. These studies, however, do not directly address leading theoretical perspectives that propose such reward-based enhancements in MTL encoding activation reflect enhanced discrimination of the motivational context of specific events. In this study, a high-value or low-value monetary cue preceded a pair of objects, indicating the future reward for successfully remembering the pair. Using representational similarity analysis and high-resolution fMRI, we show that MTL activation patterns are more similar for encoding trials preceded by the same versus different reward cues, indicating a distributed code in this region that distinguishes between motivational contexts. Moreover, we show that activation patterns in hippocampus and parahippocampal cortex (PHc) that differentiate reward conditions during anticipatory cues and object pairs relate to successful associative memory. Additionally, the degree to which patterns differentiate reward contexts in dentate gyrus/CA2,3 and PHc is related to individual differences in reward modulation of memory. Collectively, these findings suggest that distributed activation patterns in the human hippocampus and PHc reflect the rewards associated with individual events. Furthermore, we show that these activation patterns-which discriminate between reward conditions--may influence memory through the incorporation of information about motivational contexts into stored memory representations.

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