A body of animal and human evidence points to the norepinephrine (NE) locus coeruleus (LC) system in modulating memory for arousing experiences, but whether the LC would recast its role along memory stages remains unknown. Sedation precluded examination of LC dynamics during memory processing in animals. Here, we addressed the contribution of the LC during arousal-associated memory processing through a unique combination of dedicated ultra-high-field LC-imaging methods, a well-established emotional memory task, online physiological and saliva alpha-amylase measurements in young adults. Arousal-related LC activation followed amygdala engagement during encoding. During consolidation and recollection, activation transitioned to hippocampal involvement, reflecting learning and model updating. NE-LC activation is dynamic, plays an arousal-controlling role, and is not sufficient but requires interactions with the amygdala to form adaptive memories of emotional experiences. These findings have implications for understanding contributions of LC dysregulation to disruptions in emotional memory formation, observed in psychiatric and neurocognitive disorders.
Keywords: Locus coeruleus; arousal; autonomic tone; human; human biology; medicine; memory; neuroscience; norepinephrine; ultra-high-field.
© 2020, Jacobs et al.