Curr Biol. 2020 Sep 21;30(18):3533-3543.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.063. Epub 2020 Jul 30.
Stable representations of past experience are thought to depend on processes that unfold after events are initially encoded into memory. Post-encoding reactivation and hippocampal-cortical interactions are leading candidate mechanisms thought to support memory retention and stabilization across hippocampal-cortical networks. Although putative consolidation mechanisms have been observed during sleep and periods of awake rest, the direct causal contribution of awake consolidation mechanisms to later behavior is unclear, especially in humans. Moreover, it has been argued that observations of putative consolidation processes are epiphenomenal and not causally important, yet there are few tools to test the functional contribution of these mechanisms in humans. Here, we combined transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and fMRI to test the role of awake consolidation processes by targeting hippocampal interactions with lateral occipital cortex (LOC). We applied theta-burst TMS to LOC (and a control site) to interfere with an extended window (approximately 30-50 min) after memory encoding. Behaviorally, post-encoding TMS to LOC selectively impaired associative memory retention compared to multiple control conditions. In the control TMS condition, we replicated prior reports of post-encoding reactivation and memory-related hippocampal-LOC interactions during periods of awake rest using fMRI. However, post-encoding LOC TMS reduced these processes, such that post-encoding reactivation in LOC and memory-related hippocampal-LOC functional connectivity were no longer present. By targeting and manipulating post-encoding neural processes, these findings highlight the direct contribution of awake time periods to episodic memory consolidation. This combined TMS-fMRI approach provides an opportunity for causal manipulations of human memory consolidation.