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Modulation of brain activity after learning predicts long-term memory for words

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Hulten, A., Laaksonen, H., Vihla, M., Laine, M., & Salmelin, R. (2010). Modulation of brain activity after learning predicts long-term memory for words. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(45), 15160-15164. doi:10.1523/​JNEUROSCI.1278-10.2010.

The acquisition and maintenance of new language information, such as picking up new words, is a critical human ability that is needed throughout the life span. Most likely you learned the word “blog” quite recently as an adult, whereas the word “kipe,” which in the 1970s denoted stealing, now seems unfamiliar. Brain mechanisms underlying the long-term maintenance of new words have remained unknown, albeit they could provide important clues to the considerable individual differences in the ability to remember words. After successful training of a set of novel object names we tracked, over a period of 10 months, the maintenance of this new vocabulary in 10 human participants by repeated behavioral tests and magnetoencephalography measurements of overt picture naming. When namingrelated activation in the left frontal and temporal cortex was enhanced 1 week after training, compared with the level at the end of training, the individual retained a good command of the new vocabulary at 10 months; vice versa, individuals with reduced activation at 1 week posttraining were less successful in recalling the names at 10 months. This finding suggests an individual neural marker for memory, in the context of language. Learning is not over when the acquisition phase has been successfully completed: neural events during the access to recently established word representations appear to be important for the long-term outcome of learning.