Episodic reinstatement in the medial temporal lobe.
The essence of episodic memory is our ability to reexperience past events in great detail, even in the absence of external stimulus cues. Does the phenomenological reinstatement of past experiences go along with reinstating unique neural representations in the brain? And if so, how is this accomplished by the medial temporal lobe (MTL), a brain region intimately linked to episodic memory? Computational models suggest that such reinstatement (also termed "pattern completion") in cortical regions is mediated by the hippocampus, a key region of the MTL. Although recent functional magnetic resonance imaging studies demonstrated reinstatement of coarse item properties like stimulus category or task context across different brain regions, it has not yet been shown whether reinstatement can be observed at the level of individual, discrete events-arguably the defining feature of episodic memory-nor whether MTL structures like the hippocampus support this "true episodic" reinstatement. Here we show that neural activity patterns for unique word-scene combinations encountered during encoding are reinstated in human parahippocampal cortex (PhC) during retrieval. Critically, this reinstatement occurs when word-scene combinations are successfully recollected (even though the original scene is not visually presented) and does not encompass other stimulus domains (such as word-color associations). Finally, the degree of PhC reinstatement across retrieval events correlated with hippocampal activity, consistent with a role of the hippocampus in coordinating pattern completion in cortical regions.