Hippocampal–medial prefrontal interactions are thought to play a crucial role in mental simulation. Notably, the frontal midline/medial pFC (mPFC) theta rhythm in humans has been linked to introspective thought and working memory. In parallel, theta rhythms have been proposed to coordinate processing in the medial temporal cortex, retrosplenial cortex (RSc), and parietal cortex during the movement of viewpoint in imagery, extending their association with physical movement in rodent models. Here, we used noninvasive whole-head MEG to investigate theta oscillatory power and phase-locking during the 18-sec postencoding delay period of a spatial working memory task, in which participants imagined previously learned object sequences either on a blank background (object maintenance), from a first-person viewpoint in a scene (static imagery), or moving along a path past the objects (dynamic imagery). We found increases in 4- to 7-Hz theta power in mPFC when comparing the delay period with a preencoding baseline. We then examined whether the mPFC theta rhythm was phase-coupled with ongoing theta oscillations elsewhere in the brain. The same mPFC region showed significantly higher theta phase coupling with the posterior medial temporal lobe/RSc for dynamic imagery versus either object maintenance or static imagery. mPFC theta phase coupling was not observed with any other brain region. These results implicate oscillatory coupling between mPFC and medial temporal lobe/RSc theta rhythms in the dynamic mental exploration of imagined scenes.

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