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How is the "time axis" of memories encoded in the brain? I guess the time of the event could be "stored" with each event, but how is this translated into neurons etc.?

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I'm no expert on the topic, but was about to find the following;

In mammals, the hippocampus region of the brain is one of only 2 regions with the capacity for lifelong neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons). This happens continuously with the creation of new memories and experiences (neurons are even created just to mark time passing - even if no memories are stored alongside - so that a perception of 10mins and 10secs is possible, even if nothing memorable happens). As new clusters of neurons are generated, they gradually differentiate and mature to become fully functional, and in this way time and memory are interlinked, and experiences are clustered together [1].

In a human study where individuals were asked to recall whether news events occurred within 1 week of each other (some related, some not), same-week and separation judgements were more far more accurate for related events. Unrelated events were essentially guesses, whereas deductions could be made about related events. [2]. This lends weight to the above argument that memories are clustered in the brain with temporal information embedded within.

The hippocampus is also involved in imaging the future. (Inconsistent) findings suggest that activation of the hippocampus allows mammals to conceive a scenario constructed from previous memories and experiences, and to store these for later use [3].

Refs

  1. Aimone, J. B., Wiles, J., & Gage, F. H. (2006). Potential role for adult neurogenesis in the encoding of time in new memories. Nature neuroscience, 9(6), 723-7. doi:10.1038/nn1707
  2. Friedman, W. J., & Janssen, S. M. J. (2010). Do people remember the temporal proximity of unrelated events? Memory & cognition, 38(8), 1122-36. doi:10.3758/MC.38.8.1122
  3. Addis, D. R., & Schacter, D. L. (2011). The hippocampus and imagining the future: where do we stand? Frontiers in human neuroscience, 5, 173. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2011.00173
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