Monday, November 26, 2007

Memories play back on fast forward during sleep

It is know that correlations of nerve activity that are observed during learning sequence tasks replay during sleep, presumably to enhance learning and retention of the sequence. (I always find that I can play a difficult piano passage better when I wake up in the morning than when I was practicing it the day before). McNaughton and his collaborators now show that the replay during sleep occurs much faster than during actual awake behaviors. Here is their abstract:
As previously shown in the hippocampus and other brain areas, patterns of firing-rate correlations between neurons in the rat medial prefrontal cortex during a repetitive sequence task were preserved during subsequent sleep, suggesting that waking patterns are reactivated. We found that, during sleep, reactivation of spatiotemporal patterns was coherent across the network and compressed in time by a factor of 6 to 7. Thus, when behavioral constraints are removed, the brain's intrinsic processing speed may be much faster than it is in real time. Given recent evidence implicating the medial prefrontal cortex in retrieval of long-term memories, the observed replay may play a role in the process of memory consolidation.

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