Functional neural networks underlying semantic encoding of associative memories

M Crespo-Garcia, J L Cantero, A Pomyalov, S Boccaletti, M Atienza
NeuroImage 2010 April 15, 50 (3): 1258-70
Evidence suggests that theta oscillations recruit distributed cortical representations to improve associative encoding under semantically congruent conditions. Here we show that positive effects of semantic context on encoding and retrieval of associations are mediated by changes in the coupling pattern between EEG theta sources. During successful encoding of semantically congruent face-location associations, the right superior parietal lobe showed enhanced theta phase synchronization with other regions within the lateral posterior parietal lobe (PPL) and left medial temporal lobe (MTL). However, functional coordination involving the inferior parietal lobe was higher in the incongruent condition. These results suggest a differential engagement of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms during encoding of semantically congruent and incongruent episodic associations, respectively. Although retrieval processes operated on a similar neural network, the main difference with the study phase was the larger amount of functional links shown by the lateral prefrontal cortex with regions of the MTL and PPL. All together, these results suggest that theta oscillations mediate, at least partially, the positive effect of semantic congruence on associative memory by (i) optimizing top-down attentional mechanisms through enhanced theta phase synchronization between dorsal regions of the PPL and MTL and (ii) by adjusting the control of automatic attention to sensory and contextual information reactivated in the MTL through functional connections with the inferior parietal lobe during both encoding and retrieval processes.


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