Post-retrieval re-learning strengthens hippocampal memories via destabilization and reconsolidation


Memory reconsolidation is hypothesised to be a mechanism by which memories can be updated with new information. Such updating has previously been shown to weaken memory expression or change the nature of the memory. Here we demonstrate that retrieval-induced memory destabilization also allows that memory to be strengthened by additional learning. We show that for rodent contextual fear memories, this retrieval-conditioning effect is observed only when conditioning occurs within a specific temporal window opened by retrieval. Moreover, it necessitates hippocampal protein degradation at the proteasome and engages hippocampal Zif268 protein expression, both of which are established mechanisms of memory destabilization-reconsolidation. We also demonstrate a conceptually analogous pattern of results in human visual paired-associate learning. Retrieval-relearning strengthens memory performance, again only when relearning occurs within the temporal window of memory reconsolidation. These findings link retrieval-mediated learning in humans to the reconsolidation literature, and have potential implications both for the understanding of endogenous memory gains and strategies to boost weakly-learned memories.