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Human reasoning depends on reusing pieces of information by putting them together in new ways. However, very little is known about how compositional computation is implemented in the brain. Here, we ask participants to solve a series of problems that each require constructing a whole from a set of elements. With fMRI, we find that representations of novel constructed objects in the frontal cortex and hippocampus are relational and compositional. With MEG, we find that replay assembles elements into compounds, with each replay sequence constituting a hypothesis about a possible configuration of elements. The content of sequences evolves as participants solve each puzzle, progressing from predictable to uncertain elements and gradually converging on the correct configuration. Together, these results suggest a computational bridge between apparently distinct functions of hippocampal-prefrontal circuitry and a role for generative replay in compositional inference and hypothesis testing.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





4885 - 4897.e14


cognitive maps, compositional inference, flexible reasoning, neural replay, prefrontal-hippocampal circuit, Humans, Brain, Frontal Lobe, Hippocampus, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Neural Pathways, Prefrontal Cortex