Episodic memory retrieval success is associated with rapid replay of episode content.
Wimmer GE., Liu Y., Vehar N., Behrens TEJ., Dolan RJ.
Retrieval of everyday experiences is fundamental for informing our future decisions. The fine-grained neurophysiological mechanisms that support such memory retrieval are largely unknown. We studied participants who first experienced, without repetition, unique multicomponent 40-80-s episodes. One day later, they engaged in cued retrieval of these episodes while undergoing magnetoencephalography. By decoding individual episode elements, we found that trial-by-trial successful retrieval was supported by the sequential replay of episode elements, with a temporal compression factor of >60. The direction of replay supporting retrieval, either backward or forward, depended on whether the task goal was to retrieve elements of an episode that followed or preceded, respectively, a retrieval cue. This sequential replay was weaker in very-high-performing participants, in whom instead we found evidence for simultaneous clustered reactivation. Our results demonstrate that memory-mediated decisions are supported by a rapid replay mechanism that can flexibly shift in direction in response to task goals.