An emergent neural coactivity code for dynamic memory.


Neural correlates of external variables provide potential internal codes that guide an animal's behavior. Notably, first-order features of neural activity, such as single-neuron firing rates, have been implicated in encoding information. However, the extent to which higher-order features, such as multineuron coactivity, play primary roles in encoding information or secondary roles in supporting single-neuron codes remains unclear. Here, we show that millisecond-timescale coactivity among hippocampal CA1 neurons discriminates distinct, short-lived behavioral contingencies. This contingency discrimination was unrelated to the tuning of individual neurons, but was instead an emergent property of their coactivity. Contingency-discriminating patterns were reactivated offline after learning, and their reinstatement predicted trial-by-trial memory performance. Moreover, optogenetic suppression of inputs from the upstream CA3 region during learning impaired coactivity-based contingency information in the CA1 and subsequent dynamic memory retrieval. These findings identify millisecond-timescale coactivity as a primary feature of neural firing that encodes behaviorally relevant variables and supports memory retrieval.