Hippocampal-cortical encoding activity predicts the precision of episodic memory

Korkki, S.M., Richter, F.R., & Simons, J.S. (2021). Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 33, 2328-2341.

Our recollections of past experiences can vary in both the number of specific event details accessible from memory and the precision with which such details are reconstructed. Prior neuroimaging evidence suggests the success and precision of episodic recollection to rely on distinct neural substrates during memory retrieval. In contrast, the specific encoding mechanisms supporting later memory precision, and whether they differ from those underlying successful memory formation in general, are currently unknown. Here, we combined continuous measures of memory retrieval with model-based analyses of behavioral and neuroimaging data to tease apart the encoding correlates of successful memory formation and mnemonic precision. In the MRI scanner, participants encoded object-scene displays and later reconstructed features of studied objects using a continuous scale. We observed overlapping encoding activity in inferior prefrontal and posterior perceptual regions to predict both which object features were later remembered versus forgotten and the precision with which they were reconstructed from memory. In contrast, hippocampal encoding activity significantly predicted the precision, but not overall success, of subsequent memory retrieval. The current results align with theoretical accounts proposing the hippocampus to be critical for representation of high-fidelity associative information and suggest a contribution of shared cortical encoding mechanisms to the formation of both accessible and precise memory representations.