Oscillatory power decreases and long-term memory: the information via desynchronization hypothesis

Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Apr 3;6:74. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00074. eCollection 2012.


The traditional belief is that brain oscillations are important for human long-term memory, because they induce synchronized firing between cell assemblies which shapes synaptic plasticity. Therefore, most prior studies focused on the role of synchronization for episodic memory, as reflected in theta (∼5 Hz) and gamma (>40 Hz) power increases. These studies, however, neglect the role that is played by neural desynchronization, which is usually reflected in power decreases in the alpha and beta frequency band (8-30 Hz). In this paper we present a first idea, derived from information theory that gives a mechanistic explanation of how neural desynchronization aids human memory encoding and retrieval. Thereby we will review current studies investigating the role of alpha and beta power decreases during long-term memory tasks and show that alpha and beta power decreases play an important and active role for human memory. Applying mathematical models of information theory, we demonstrate that neural desynchronization is positively related to the richness of information represented in the brain, thereby enabling encoding and retrieval of long-term memories. This information via desynchronization hypothesis makes several predictions, which can be tested in future experiments.

Keywords: EEG; MEG; alpha; beta; desynchronization; long-term memory; oscillations; synchronization.