Replay of Specific Sequences of Neuronal Activity in the Brain and its Significance for Cognitive Processes



It has been repeatedly shown in animals that during periods of their relative motor inactivity (between runs, for example, or when the pace slows down), there is reactivation of specific sequences of activity of the same neurons and in the same order (sometimes in exactly the opposite order) as in the process of actually performing behavioral acts. Such reactivations were called “replays”. Similar neuronal reactivations in the brain are observed during periods of sleep, that is often associated with the presence of dreams and the phenomenon of “improving” memory. Initially, such “spontaneous” reactivations were demonstrated in the hippocampus for neurons specific in their activity in relation to various places. Later it turned out that the same thing is found in the cortex and in subcortical structures, for example, in the striatum. The phenomenon of neuronal replays presumably underlies the reorganization and consolidation of memory (i.e. its stabilization). “Spontaneous” reactivations are also observed immediately before the performance of a particular behavior and, apparently, underlie selection for future behavior during decision-making. The data presented in this review suggest that what is considered “spontaneous” brain activity is a natural process of continuous updating of existing elements of individual experience for future interactions in the environment. Brain activity is a continuous change of active neuronal groups, and the frequency of “spontaneous” replays, presumably, depends on the time that has elapsed since the appearance of exactly such a combination of neurons during the consolidation and reconsolidation of memory. The study of “spontaneous” brain activations is a relatively new field of neuroscience, and their nature and significance require further research.

General Information

Keywords: brain, neuronal activity, mental processes, sleep, decision-making, memory, experience

Journal rubric: Psychophysiology

Article type: scientific article


Funding. The reported study was funded by Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), project number 20-113-50099.

Acknowledgements. I am grateful to E.A. Kuzina and A.A. Tsessarsky for discussion and comments on the manuscript.

Received: 27.08.2021


For citation: Svarnik O.E. Replay of Specific Sequences of Neuronal Activity in the Brain and its Significance for Cognitive Processes. Eksperimental'naâ psihologiâ = Experimental Psychology (Russia), 2022. Vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 33–55. DOI: 10.17759/exppsy.2022150103. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


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Information About the Authors

Olga E. Svarnik, PhD in Psychology, Senior Researcher, Institute of Psychology RAS, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:


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