Mechanisms and functions of theta rhythms

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2013 Jul 8:36:295-312. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-062012-170330. Epub 2013 May 29.


The theta rhythm is one of the largest and most sinusoidal activity patterns in the brain. Here I survey progress in the field of theta rhythms research. I present arguments supporting the hypothesis that theta rhythms emerge owing to intrinsic cellular properties yet can be entrained by several theta oscillators throughout the brain. I review behavioral correlates of theta rhythms and consider how these correlates inform our understanding of theta rhythms' functions. I discuss recent work suggesting that one function of theta is to package related information within individual theta cycles for more efficient spatial memory processing. Studies examining the role of theta phase precession in spatial memory, particularly sequence retrieval, are also summarized. Additionally, I discuss how interregional coupling of theta rhythms facilitates communication across brain regions. Finally, I conclude by summarizing how theta rhythms may support cognitive operations in the brain, including learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology*