Retrieval, the use of learned information, was until recently mostly terra incognita in the neurobiology of memory, owing to shortage of research methods with the spatiotemporal resolution required to identify and dissect fast reactivation or reconstruction of complex memories in the mammalian brain. The development of novel paradigms, model systems, and new tools in molecular genetics, electrophysiology, optogenetics, in situ microscopy, and functional imaging, have contributed markedly in recent years to our ability to investigate brain mechanisms of retrieval.We review selected developments in the study of explicit retrieval in the rodent and human brain. The picture that emerges is that retrieval involves coordinated fast interplay of sparse and distributed corticohippocampal and neocortical networks that may permit permutational binding of representational elements to yield specific representations. These representations are driven largely by the activity patterns shaped during encoding, but are malleable, subject to the influence of time and interaction of the existing memory with novel information.
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