The Role of Sleep in Declarative Memory Consolidation—Direct Evidence by Intracranial EEG

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Two step theories of memory formation assume that an initial learning phase is followed by a consolidation stage. Memory consolidation has been suggested to occur predominantly during sleep. Very recent findings, however, suggest that important steps in memory consolidation occur also during waking state but may become saturated after some time awake. Sleep, in this model, specifically favors restoration of synaptic plasticity and accelerated memory consolidation while asleep and briefly afterwards. To distinguish between these different views, we recorded intracranial electroencephalograms from the hippocampus and rhinal cortex of human subjects while they retrieved information acquired either before or after a “nap” in the afternoon or on a control day without nap. Reaction times, hippocampal event-related potentials, and oscillatory gamma activity indicated a temporal gradient of hippocampal involvement in information retrieval on the control day, suggesting hippocampal–neocortical information transfer during waking state. On the day with nap, retrieval of recent items that were encoded briefly after the nap did not involve the hippocampus to a higher degree than retrieval of items encoded before the nap. These results suggest that sleep facilitates rapid processing through the hippocampus but is not necessary for information transfer into the neocortex per se.

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