Representing episodes in the mammalian brain

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2006 Dec;16(6):701-9. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2006.08.017. Epub 2006 Nov 3.


Memory lets the past inform the present so that we can attain future goals. In many species, these abilities require the hippocampus. Recent experiments, in which memory demand was varied while overt behavior and the environment were kept constant, have revealed firing patterns of hippocampal neurons that corresponded with memory demands and predicted performance. Although the active population appeared to be 'place cells' that signalled location, it actually included cells the activity patterns of which distinguished the recent or pending history of behavior during identical actions that occurred in the same place. Different populations of hippocampal cells fired as a rat walked along the same spatial path on the way to different goals, and coded past, present and pending events. Other experiments provide converging data that neuronal activity is modulated by goal-directed behavioral episodes. Together, these firing patterns suggest a testable mechanism of episodic memory coding: that hippocampal dynamics encode a temporally extended, hierarchically organized representation of goal-directed behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Goals
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mammals / anatomy & histology
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Time Perception / physiology