Memory retrieval and the passage of time: from reconsolidation and strengthening to extinction

J Neurosci. 2011 Feb 2;31(5):1635-43. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4736-10.2011.


An established memory can be made transiently labile if retrieved or reactivated. Over time, it becomes again resistant to disruption and this process that renders the memory stable is termed reconsolidation. The reasons why a memory becomes labile after retrieval and reconsolidates still remains debated. Here, using inhibitory avoidance learning in rats, we provide evidence that retrievals of a young memory, which are accompanied by its reconsolidation, result in memory strengthening and contribute to its overall consolidation. This function associated to reconsolidation is temporally limited. With the passage of time, the stored memory undergoes important changes, as revealed by the behavioral outcomes of its retrieval. Over time, without explicit retrievals, memory first strengthens and becomes refractory to both retrieval-dependent interference and strengthening. At later times, the same retrievals that lead to reconsolidation of a young memory extinguish an older memory. We conclude that the storage of information is very dynamic and that its temporal evolution regulates behavioral outcomes. These results are important for potential clinical applications.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning* / drug effects
  • Cycloheximide / administration & dosage
  • Cycloheximide / pharmacology*
  • Extinction, Psychological* / drug effects
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Injections, Intraperitoneal
  • Male
  • Memory* / drug effects
  • Mental Recall
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects*
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Retention, Psychology
  • Time Factors


  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors
  • Cycloheximide