Impact of sleep loss before learning on cortical dynamics during memory retrieval

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Abstract

Evidence shows that sleep loss before learning decreases activation of the hippocampus during encoding and promotes forgetting. But it remains to be determined which neural systems are functionally affected during memory retrieval after one night of recovery sleep. To investigate this issue, we evaluated memory for pairs of famous people's faces with the same or different profession (i.e., semantically congruent or incongruent faces) after one night of undisturbed sleep in subjects who either underwent 4 hours of acute sleep restriction (ASR, N = 20) or who slept 8 hours the pre-training night (controls, N = 20). EEG recordings were collected during the recognition memory task in both groups, and the cortical sources generating this activity localized by applying a spatial beamforming filter in the frequency domain. Even though sleep restriction did not affect accuracy of memory performance, controls showed a much larger decrease of alpha power relative to a baseline period when compared to sleep-deprived subjects. These group differences affected a widespread frontotemporoparietal network involved in retrieval of episodic/semantic memories. Regression analyses further revealed that associative memory in the ASR group was negatively correlated with alpha power in the occipital regions, whereas the benefit of congruency in the same group was positively correlated with delta power in the left lateral prefrontal cortex. Retrieval-related decreases of alpha power have been associated with the reactivation of material-specific memory representations, whereas increases of delta power have been related to inhibition of interferences that may affect the performance of the task. We can therefore draw the conclusion that a few hours of sleep loss in the pre-training night, though insufficient to change the memory performance, is sufficient to alter the processes involved in retrieving and manipulating episodic and semantic information.

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