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Barcoding of episodic memories in the hippocampus of a food-caching bird


Authors: Selmaan N. Chettih, Emily L. Mackevicius, Stephanie Hale, Dmitriy Aronov
Publication: Cell
Date: March 29, 2024
Link to article: https://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(24)00235-6


The hippocampus is critical for episodic memory. Although hippocampal activity represents place and other behaviorally relevant variables, it is unclear how it encodes numerous memories of specific events in life. To study episodic coding, we leveraged the specialized behavior of chickadees—food-caching birds that form memories at well-defined moments in time whenever they cache food for subsequent retrieval. Our recordings during caching revealed very sparse, transient barcode-like patterns of firing across hippocampal neurons. Each “barcode” uniquely represented a caching event and transiently reactivated during the retrieval of that specific cache. Barcodes co-occurred with the conventional activity of place cells but were uncorrelated even for nearby cache locations that had similar place codes. We propose that animals recall episodic memories by reactivating hippocampal barcodes. Similarly to computer hash codes, these patterns assign unique identifiers to different events and could be a mechanism for rapid formation and storage of many non-interfering memories.

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