Pre-stimulus thalamic theta power predicts human memory formation


Pre-stimulus theta (4–8 Hz) power in the hippocampus and neocortex predicts whether a memory for a subsequent event will be formed. Anatomical studies reveal thalamus-hippocampal connectivity, and lesion, neuroimaging, and electrophysiological studies show that memory processing involves the dorsomedial (DMTN) and anterior thalamic nuclei (ATN). The small size and deep location of these nuclei have limited real-time study of their activity, however, and it is unknown whether pre-stimulus theta power predictive of successful memory formation is also found in these subcortical structures. We recorded human electrophysiological data from the DMTN and ATN of 7 patients receiving deep brain stimulation for refractory epilepsy. We found that greater pre-stimulus theta power in the right DMTN was associated with successful memory encoding, predicting both behavioral outcome and post-stimulus correlates of successful memory formation. In particular, significant correlations were observed between right DMTN theta power and both frontal theta and right ATN gamma (32–50 Hz) phase alignment, and frontal-ATN theta-gamma cross-frequency coupling. We draw the following primary conclusions. Our results provide direct electrophysiological evidence in humans of a role for the DMTN as well as the ATN in memory formation. Furthermore, prediction of subsequent memory performance by pre-stimulus thalamic oscillations provides evidence that post-stimulus differences in thalamic activity that index successful and unsuccessful encoding reflect brain processes specifically underpinning memory formation. Finally, the findings broaden the understanding of brain states that facilitate memory encoding to include subcortical as well as cortical structures.