The mysteries of remote memory

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2018 Mar 19;373(1742):20170029. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0029.


Long-lasting memories form the basis of our identity as individuals and lie central in shaping future behaviours that guide survival. Surprisingly, however, our current knowledge of how such memories are stored in the brain and retrieved, as well as the dynamics of the circuits involved, remains scarce despite seminal technical and experimental breakthroughs in recent years. Traditionally, it has been proposed that, over time, information initially learnt in the hippocampus is stored in distributed cortical networks. This process-the standard theory of memory consolidation-would stabilize the newly encoded information into a lasting memory, become independent of the hippocampus, and remain essentially unmodifiable throughout the lifetime of the individual. In recent years, several pieces of evidence have started to challenge this view and indicate that long-lasting memories might already ab ovo be encoded, and subsequently stored in distributed cortical networks, akin to the multiple trace theory of memory consolidation. In this review, we summarize these recent findings and attempt to identify the biologically plausible mechanisms based on which a contextual memory becomes remote by integrating different levels of analysis: from neural circuits to cell ensembles across synaptic remodelling and epigenetic modifications. From these studies, remote memory formation and maintenance appear to occur through a multi-trace, dynamic and integrative cellular process ranging from the synapse to the nucleus, and represent an exciting field of research primed to change quickly as new experimental evidence emerges.This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'Of mice and mental health: facilitating dialogue between basic and clinical neuroscientists'.

Keywords: ACC; consolidation; epigenetics; hippocampus; memory; remote memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / physiology*
  • Memory, Long-Term / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Synapses / physiology*