how are memories allocated and linked in neurocircuits?


Although mechanisms involved in encoding, storing and retrieving memory have attracted a great deal of attention, the processes that allocate individual memories to specific neurons within a network have remained elusive. Similarly, although the processes that connect and link information across time are critical for survival, they have also remained unexplored.

Recent findings from our laboratory, using methods, such as optogenetics and a new generation of head mounted fluorescent microscopes, unraveled the first insights into the mechanisms that modulate memory allocation in neuronetworks, and showed that they are critical to link memories across time.

We have shown that neurons compete to take part in memory traces and that the levels of the transcription factor CREB (cAMP-response element binding protein) determine the probability that a given neuron will be recruited into a given memory representation. Our electrophysiological studies showed that CREB-dependent transcription increases the excitability of neurons, and thus affects the probability that they will be recruited into a given memory.

We first proposed that a key function of memory allocation mechanisms is to link memories across time! Recently, our laboratory showed that one memory triggers CREB activation and subsequent increases in excitability in a subset of neurons of a network, so that another memory, even many hours later, can be allocated to some of the same neurons. Recall of the first memory triggers the activation of those neurons and therefore the reactivation and recall of the other memory. These results represent the first molecular, cellular and circuit mechanism underlying the linking of memories across time!

With the Poirazi lab, we have also published a biological model of memory linking across time in which linked memories are stored in clustered spines in overlapping neurons (PDF)

Key Publications:

Denise J. Cai, Daniel Aharoni, Tristan Shuman, Justin Shobe, Jeremy Biane, Weilin Song, Brandon Wei, Michael Veshkini, Mimi La-Vu, Jerry Lou, Sergio Flores, Isaac Kim, Yoshitake Sano, Miou Zhou, Karsten Baumgaertel, Ayal Lavi, Masakazu Kamata, Mark Tuszynski, Mark Mayford, Peyman Golshani and Alcino J. Silva. A shared neural ensemble links distinct contextual memories encoded close in time. Nature 534, 115–118 (02 June 2016) (PDF)

Kastellakis, G., Silva, AJ and Poirazi, P, Linking memories across time via synapse clustering in nonlinear dendrites. Cell Reports, Volume 17, Issue 6, p1491–1504, 1 November 2016

Rogerson, T., B. Jayaprakash, D.J. Cai, Y. Sano, Y.S. Lee, Y. Zhou, P. Bekal, K. Deisseroth, and A.J. Silva, Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms for Trapping and Activating Emotional Memories. PLoS One, 2016. 11(8): p. e0161655.

Sano, Y, Shobe, JL, Zhou, M, Huang, S, Cai, DJ, Roth, BL, Kamata, M, and Silva, AJ. CREB regulates memory allocation in the insular cortex. Current Biology 2014 (PDF). For a Scientist article on this research paper click here

Czajkowski, R, Jayaprakash, B, Wiltgen, B, Rogerson, T, Karlsson, MG, Barth, A, Trachtenberg, J, and Silva, AJ. Encoding and storage of spatial information in the retrosplenial cortex, PNAS Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014

Thomas Rogerson, Denise J. Cai, Adam Frank, Yoshitake Sano, Justin Shobe, Manuel F. Lopez-Aranda & Alcino J. Silva. Synaptic tagging during memory allocation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 15, 157–169 (2014) PMID: 24496410

Silva, A. J., Y. Zhou, et al. (2009). "Molecular and cellular approaches to memory allocation in neural circuits." Science 326(5951): 391-395.(

Zhou, Y., J. Won, et al. (2009). "CREB regulates excitability and the allocation of memory to subsets of neurons in the amygdala." Nat Neurosci. (

Han, J. H., S. A. Kushner, et al. (2007). "Neuronal competition and selection during memory formation." Science 316(5823): 457-460.(

Won, J. and A. J. Silva (2008). "Molecular and cellular mechanisms of memory allocation in neuronetworks." Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 89(3): 285-292.