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Nature. 2015 Apr 16;520(7547):345-8. doi: 10.1038/nature14106. Epub 2015 Jan 21.

Emotional learning selectively and retroactively strengthens memories for related events.

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Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Sciences, New York University, New York, New York 10003, USA.
1] Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Sciences, New York University, New York, New York 10003, USA [2] Nathan Kline Institute, Orangeburg, New York 10962, USA.


Neurobiological models of long-term memory propose a mechanism by which initially weak memories are strengthened through subsequent activation that engages common neural pathways minutes to hours later. This synaptic tag-and-capture model has been hypothesized to explain how inconsequential information is selectively consolidated following salient experiences. Behavioural evidence for tag-and-capture is provided by rodent studies in which weak early memories are strengthened by future behavioural training. Whether a process of behavioural tagging occurs in humans to transform weak episodic memories into stable long-term memories is unknown. Here we show, in humans, that information is selectively consolidated if conceptually related information, putatively represented in a common neural substrate, is made salient through an emotional learning experience. Memory for neutral objects was selectively enhanced if other objects from the same category were paired with shock. Retroactive enhancements as a result of emotional learning were observed following a period of consolidation, but were not observed in an immediate memory test or for items strongly encoded before fear conditioning. These findings provide new evidence for a generalized retroactive memory enhancement, whereby inconsequential information can be retroactively credited as relevant, and therefore selectively remembered, if conceptually related information acquires salience in the future.

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