Long-Term Memories Formed During Sleep?

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

One theme of this blog is the ongoing scientific quest to better understand the brain as a means of optimizing our efforts to keep it healthy. An interesting study published this week in Neuron has perhaps opened another door on the still murky realm of memory formation.

Researchers at MIT have published a study showing that a key neural process for encoding long-term memories appears to happen during sleep. Their research, on both mice and humans, makes a compelling case about the underlying mechanisms in the brain.

In mice, it was shown that the same neural circuits that fired while the mice were learning a maze, continued to fire during their sleep shortly after, providing evidence that the solution was being encoded for longer term storage. Humans who were allowed to nap shortly after learning some word pairs were then shown to out perform other humans who had not napped after the learning exercise.

Taken together, these experiments suggest an important connection between sleep and long-term memory formation. This may have important benefits in the ongoing campaign to understand the brain. It is also interesting from an evolutionary biology point of view as it may be an explanation for the purpose of sleep.

1 comment :