Neutral events preceding emotional experiences are thought to be better remembered by tagging them as significant to simulate future event predictions. Yet, the neurobiological mechanisms how emotion transforms initially mundane events into strong memories remain unclear. By two behavioral and one fMRI studies with adapted sensory preconditioning paradigm, we show rapid neural reactivation and reorganization underlying emotion-tagged retroactive memory enhancement. Behaviorally, emotional tagging enhanced initial memory for neutral associations across the three studies. Neurally, emotional tagging potentiated reactivation of overlapping neural traces in the hippocampus and stimulus-relevant neocortex. Moreover, it induced large-scale hippocampal-neocortical reorganization supporting such retroactive benefit, as characterized by enhanced hippocampal-neocortical coupling modulated by the amygdala during online processing, and a shift from stimulus-relevant neocortex to transmodal prefrontal-parietal areas during offline post-tagging rest. Together, emotional tagging retroactively promotes associations between past neutral events through stimulating rapid reactivation of overlapping representations and reorganizing related memories into an integrated network.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience