Published on Mon Jul 19 2021

Traces of semantization - from episodic to semantic memory in a spiking cortical network model

Chrysanthidis, N., Fiebig, F., Lansner, A., Herman, P.

Episodic memory is commonly subject to loss of contextual information or "semantization" This gradually decouples the encoded memory items from their associated contexts while transforming them into semantic or gist-like representations. Despite recent advancements explaining semantization at a behavioral level, the underlying neural mechanisms remain poorly understood.

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Abstract

Episodic memory is the recollection of past personal experiences associated with particular times and places. This kind of memory is commonly subject to loss of contextual information or "semantization", which gradually decouples the encoded memory items from their associated contexts while transforming them into semantic or gist-like representations. Novel extensions to the classical Remember/Know behavioral paradigm attribute the loss of episodicity to multiple exposures of an item in different contexts. Despite recent advancements explaining semantization at a behavioral level, the underlying neural mechanisms remain poorly understood. In this study, we suggest and evaluate a novel hypothesis proposing that Bayesian-Hebbian synaptic plasticity mechanisms might cause semantization of episodic memory. We implement a cortical spiking neural network model with a Bayesian-Hebbian learning rule called Bayesian Confidence Propagation Neural Network (BCPNN), which captures the semantization phenomenon and offers a mechanistic explanation for it. Encoding items across multiple contexts leads to item-context decoupling akin to semantization. We compare BCPNN plasticity with the more commonly used spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP) learning rule in the same episodic memory task. Unlike BCPNN, STDP does not explain the decontextualization process. We also examine how selective plasticity modulation of isolated salient events may enhance preferential retention and resistance to semantization. Our model reproduces important features of episodicity on behavioral timescales under various biological constraints whilst also offering a novel neural and synaptic explanation for semantization, thereby casting new light on the interplay between episodic and semantic memory processes.