Searching basic units in memory traces: associative memory cells

F1000Res. 2019 Apr 12;8:457. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.18771.1. eCollection 2019.


The acquisition of associated signals is commonly seen in life. The integrative storage of these exogenous and endogenous signals is essential for cognition, emotion and behaviors. In terms of basic units of memory traces or engrams, associative memory cells are recruited in the brain during learning, cognition and emotional reactions. The recruitment and refinement of associative memory cells facilitate the retrieval of memory-relevant events and the learning of reorganized unitary signals that have been acquired. The recruitment of associative memory cells is fulfilled by generating mutual synapse innervations among them in coactivated brain regions. Their axons innervate downstream neurons convergently and divergently to recruit secondary associative memory cells. Mutual synapse innervations among associative memory cells confer the integrative storage and reciprocal retrieval of associated signals. Their convergent synapse innervations to secondary associative memory cells endorse integrative cognition. Their divergent innervations to secondary associative memory cells grant multiple applications of associated signals. Associative memory cells in memory traces are defined to be nerve cells that are able to encode multiple learned signals and receive synapse innervations carrying these signals. An impairment in the recruitment and refinement of associative memory cells will lead to the memory deficit associated with neurological diseases and psychological disorders. This review presents a comprehensive diagram for the recruitment and refinement of associative memory cells for memory-relevant events in a lifetime.

Keywords: Associative memory cell; brain; cognition; learning; memory trace; neuron; synapse.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Memory* / physiology
  • Neurons*
  • Synapses*

Grant support

This study is funded by National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFC1307100) and Natural Science Foundation China (81671071) to JHW