Neuronal Ensembles Organize Activity to Generate Contextual Memory

Front Behav Neurosci. 2022 Mar 15:16:805132. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2022.805132. eCollection 2022.


Contextual learning is a critical component of episodic memory and important for living in any environment. Context can be described as the attributes of a location that are not the location itself. This includes a variety of non-spatial information that can be derived from sensory systems (sounds, smells, lighting, etc.) and internal state. In this review, we first address the behavioral underpinnings of contextual memory and the development of context memory theory, with a particular focus on the contextual fear conditioning paradigm as a means of assessing contextual learning and the underlying processes contributing to it. We then present the various neural centers that play roles in contextual learning. We continue with a discussion of the current knowledge of the neural circuitry and physiological processes that underlie contextual representations in the Entorhinal cortex-Hippocampal (EC-HPC) circuit, as the most well studied contributor to contextual memory, focusing on the role of ensemble activity as a representation of context with a description of remapping, and pattern separation and completion in the processing of contextual information. We then discuss other critical regions involved in contextual memory formation and retrieval. We finally consider the engram assembly as an indicator of stored contextual memories and discuss its potential contribution to contextual memory.

Keywords: contextual fear conditioning; entorhinal cortex; hippocampus; memory engram; neural circuits.

Publication types

  • Review