Distinct slow and fast cortical theta dynamics in episodic memory retrieval

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Brain oscillations in the theta frequency band (3–8 Hz) have been shown to be critically involved in human episodic memory retrieval. In prior work, both positive and negative relationships between cortical theta power and retrieval success have been reported. This study examined the hypothesis that slow and fast cortical theta oscillations at the edges of the traditional theta frequency band are differentially related to retrieval success. Scalp EEG was recorded in healthy human participants as they performed a cued-recall episodic memory task. Slow (˜ 3 Hz) and fast (˜ 7 Hz) theta oscillations at retrieval were examined as a function of whether an item was recalled or not and as a function of the items' output position at test. Recall success typically declines with output position, due to increases in interference level. The results showed that slow theta power was positively related but fast theta power was negatively related to retrieval success. Concurrent positive and negative episodic memory effects for slow and fast theta oscillations were dissociable in time and space, showing different time courses and different spatial locations on the scalp. Moreover, fast theta power increased from early to late output positions, whereas slow theta power was unaffected by items' output position. Together with prior work, the results suggest that slow and fast theta oscillations have distinct functional roles in episodic memory retrieval, with slow theta oscillations being related to processes of recollection and conscious awareness, and fast theta oscillations being linked to processes of interference and interference resolution.

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