Simultaneous Reality Filtering and Encoding of Thoughts: The Substrate for Distinguishing between Memories of Real Events and Imaginations?

Front Behav Neurosci. 2017 Nov 1:11:216. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00216. eCollection 2017.


Any thought, whether it refers to the present moment or reflects an imagination, is again encoded as a new memory trace. Orbitofrontal reality filtering (ORFi) denotes an on-line mechanism which verifies whether upcoming thoughts relate to ongoing reality or not. Its failure induces reality confusion with confabulations and disorientation. If the result of this process were simultaneously encoded, it would easily explain later distinction between memories relating to a past reality and memories relating to imagination, a faculty called reality monitoring. How the brain makes this distinction is unknown but much research suggests that it depends on processes active when information is encoded. Here we explored the precise timing between ORFi and encoding as well as interactions between the involved brain structures. We used high-density evoked potentials and two runs of a continuous recognition task (CRT) combining the challenges of ORFi and encoding. ORFi was measured by the ability to realize that stimuli appearing in the second run had not appeared in this run yet. Encoding was measured with immediately repeated stimuli, which has been previously shown to induce a signal emanating from the medial temporal lobe (MTL), which has a protective effect on the memory trace. We found that encoding, as measured with this task, sets in at about 210 ms after stimulus presentation, 35 ms before ORFi. Both processes end at about 330 ms. Both were characterized by increased coherence in the theta band in the MTL during encoding and in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) during ORFi. The study suggests a complex interaction between OFC and MTL allowing for thoughts to be re-encoded while they undergo ORFi. The combined influence of these two processes at 200-300 ms may leave a memory trace that allows for later effortless reality monitoring in most everyday situations.

Keywords: connectivity; encoding; evoked potentials; orbitofrontal cortex; orbitofrontal reality filtering; reality monitoring; source memory; theta band.