Cerebral Activation During Initial Motor Learning Forecasts Subsequent Sleep-Facilitated Memory Consolidation in Older Adults

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Older adults exhibit deficits in motor memory consolidation; however, little is known about the cerebral correlates of this impairment. We thus employed fMRI to investigate the neural substrates underlying motor sequence memory consolidation, and the modulatory influence of post-learning sleep, in healthy older adults. Participants were trained on a motor sequence and retested following an 8-h interval including wake or diurnal sleep as well as a 22-h interval including a night of sleep. Results demonstrated that a post-learning nap improved offline consolidation across same- and next-day retests. This enhanced consolidation was reflected by increased activity in the putamen and the medial temporal lobe, including the hippocampus, regions that have previously been implicated in sleep-dependent neural plasticity in young adults. Moreover, for the first time in older adults, the neural substrates subserving initial motor learning, including the putamen, cerebellum, and parietal cortex, were shown to forecast subsequent consolidation depending on whether a post-learning nap was afforded. Specifically, sufficient activation in a motor-related network appears to be necessary to trigger sleep-facilitated consolidation in older adults. Our findings not only demonstrate that post-learning sleep can enhance motor memory consolidation in older adults, but also provide the system-level neural correlates of this beneficial effect.

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