Complex interactions between neocortex and hippocampus are the neural basis of memory formation. Two-step theories of memory formation suggest that initial encoding of novel information depends on the induction of rapid plasticity within the hippocampus, and is followed by a second sleep-dependent step of memory consolidation. These theories predict information flow from the neocortex into the hippocampus during waking state and in the reverse direction during sleep. However, experimental evidence that interactions between hippocampus and neocortex have a predominant direction which reverses during sleep rely on cross-correlation analysis of data from animal experiments and yielded inconsistent results. Here, we investigated directional coupling in intracranial EEG data from human subjects using a phase-modeling approach which is well suited to reveal functional interdependencies in oscillatory data. In general, we observed that the anterior hippocampus predominantly drives nearby and remote brain regions. Surprisingly, however, the influence of neocortical regions on the hippocampus significantly increased during sleep as compared to waking state. These results question the standard model of hippocampal-neocortical interactions and suggest that sleep-dependent consolidation is accomplished by an active retrieval of hippocampal information by the neocortex.
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