Sleep Could Improve Long-Term Memory

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June 29, 2009

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Do you struggle with a forgetful memory? The best solution may be a good night’s sleep. A recent study conducted at MIT confirmed that sleep is essential for the storage of long-term memories, according to an article in US News and World Report . Researchers from the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at MIT’s Power Institute for Learning and Memory reported that the performance of specific circuits, known as trisynaptic circuits, found in the hippocampus is important in processing memories before they are stored in other regions of the brain. Study author Susumu Tonegawa told US News and World Report , "Our work demonstrates the molecular link between post-experience sleep and the establishment of long-term memory of that experience."

The researchers put their hypothesis to the test by first implanting electrodes in the brains of mice and then feeding the mice a special diet that disrupted their trisynaptic circuit. Each mouse negotiated a maze while researchers recorded their activity. They found that the mice formed cells that fired in recognition of learning their new environment. Subsequently, the new cells fired in a similar pattern as the mice slept. Those with properly functioning trisynaptic circuits during sleep displayed longer memories of the maze compared with mice that had disrupted circuits.