Propofol modulates early memory consolidation
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Description: Maintenance of memory across time is crucial for adaptive behavior. Current theories posit that the underlying consolidation process depends on stabilization of synapses and reorganization of interactions between hippocampus and neocortex. However, the temporal properties of hippocampal-neocortical network reconfiguration during consolidation are still a matter of debate. Translational research on this issue is challenged by the paucity of techniques to transiently interfere with memory in the healthy human brain. Here, we report a neuro-pharmacological approach with the GABAA-ergic anesthetic propofol and a memory task sensitive to hippocampal dysfunction. Patients undergoing minor surgery learned word lists before injection of an anesthetic dose of propofol. Results show that administration of the drug shortly after learning (~13 min) impairs recall after awakening but spares recognition. By contrast, later administration (~105 min) has no effect. These findings suggest significant changes in memory networks very early after learning that are decisive for later recall. Propofol general anesthesia provides an experimental tool to modulate the first steps of hippocampus-mediated memory consolidation in humans.