Emotional state alters encoding of long-term spatial episodic memory

Rachael Dixon-Melvin, Khadijah Shanazz, Rebecca Nalloor, Kristopher M. Bunting, Almira Vazdarjanova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The neurobiology of emotion and episodic memory are well-researched subjects, as is their intersection: memory of emotional events (i.e. emotional memory). We and others have previously demonstrated that the emotional valence of stimuli is encoded in the dorsal hippocampus, a structure integral to the acquisition, consolidation and retrieval of long-term episodic memories. Such findings are consistent with the idea that the emotional valence of stimuli contributes to the ”what” component of episodic memories (“where” and “when” being the other components). We hypothesized that being in a heightened emotional state by itself does not contribute to the ”what” component of episodic memories. We tested an inference of this hypothesis - that negative emotional state does not alter re-encoding of a spatial episodic event. Rats from the experimental group explored a novel place at their baseline emotional state (Event 1) and 20 min later re-explored the same place (Event 2) in a negative emotional state induced by a state-altering event prior to Event 2. We examined neuronal ensembles that induced expression of Arc and Homer1a, two immediate-early genes (IEGs) necessary for synaptic plasticity and consolidation of long-term memories, during both events. We found that in dorsal CA1 and dorsal CA3, Event 1 and Event 2 induced IEG expression in different neuronal ensembles. This finding was reflected in a low Fidelity score, which assesses the percentage of the Event 1 IEG-expressing ensemble re-activated during Event 2. The Fidelity score was significantly higher in a control group which was at a baseline emotional state during Event 2. Groups which were matched for non-specific disruptions from the state-altering event had intermediate Fidelity scores in dorsal CA1. The Fidelity scores of the dorsal CA3 in the latter groups were similar to those of the control group. Combined, the findings reject the tested hypothesis and suggest that a negative emotional state is encoded in the hippocampus as part of the long-term memory of episodic events that lack explicit emotion-inducing stimuli. These findings also suggest that individuals who often experience strong negative emotional states incorporate these states into ongoing non-emotional episodic memories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107562
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Arc
  • Emotional State
  • Episodic Memory
  • Hippocampus
  • Homer 1a
  • catFISH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Emotional state alters encoding of long-term spatial episodic memory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this