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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: Journal of Neuroscience.

Volume 34, Issue 34, 20 August 2014, Pages 11355-11365.

The published version is available at DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2654-13.2014

Copyright © 2014 the authors.


Humans possess the remarkable ability to search their memory, allowing specific past episodes to be re-experienced spontaneously. Here, we administered a free recall test to 114 neurosurgical patients and used intracranial theta and high-frequency activity (HFA) to identify the spatiotemporal pattern of neural activity underlying spontaneous episodic retrieval. We found that retrieval evolved in three electrophysiological stages composed of: (1) early theta oscillations in the right temporal cortex, (2) increased HFA in the left hemisphere including the medial temporal lobe (MTL), left inferior frontal gyrus, as well as the ventrolateral temporal cortex, and (3) motor/language activation during vocalization of the retrieved item. Of these responses, increased HFA in the left MTL predicted recall performance. These results suggest that spontaneous recall of verbal episodic memories involves a spatiotemporal pattern of spectral changes across the brain; however, high-frequency activity in the left MTL represents a final common pathway of episodic retrieval.

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