Causal role of prefrontal cortex in strengthening of episodic memories through reconsolidation

Curr Biol. 2013 Nov 4;23(21):2181-4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.08.045. Epub 2013 Oct 24.


Memory consolidation is a dynamic process. Reactivation of consolidated memories triggers reconsolidation, a time-limited period during which memories can be modified. Episodic memory refers to our ability to recall specific past events about what happened, including where and when. However, it is unknown whether noninvasive stimulation of the neocortex during reconsolidation might strengthen existing episodic memories in humans. To modify these memories, we applied repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over right lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), a region involved in the reactivation of episodic memories. We report that rTMS of PFC after memory reactivation strengthened verbal episodic memories, an effect documented by improved recall 24 hr postreactivation compared to stimulation of PFC without reactivation and vertex (control site) after reactivation. In contrast, there was no effect of stimulation 1 hr postreactivation (control experiment), showing that memory strengthening is time dependent, consistent with the reconsolidation theory. Thus, we demonstrated that right lateral PFC plays a causal role in strengthening of episodic memories through reconsolidation in humans. Reconsolidation may serve as an opportunity to modify existing memories with noninvasive stimulation of a critical brain region, an issue of fundamental importance for memory research and clinical applications.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Young Adult