Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
An unexplained phenomenon in neuroscience is the discovery that electrical stimulation in temporal neocortex can cause neurosurgical patients to spontaneously experience memory retrieval. Here we provide the first detailed examination of the neural basis of stimulation-induced memory retrieval by probing brain activity in a patient who reliably recalled memories of his high school (HS) after stimulation at a site in his left temporal lobe. After stimulation, this patient performed a customized memory task in which he was prompted to retrieve information from HS and non-HS topics. At the one site where stimulation evoked HS memories, remembering HS information caused a distinctive pattern of neural activity compared with retrieving non-HS information. Together, these findings suggest that the patient had a cluster of neurons in his temporal lobe that help represent the “high school-ness” of the current cognitive state. We believe that stimulation here evoked HS memories because it altered local neural activity in a way that partially mimicked the normal brain state for HS memories. More broadly, our findings suggest that brain stimulation can evoke memories by recreating neural patterns from normal cognition.