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UCLA Study Shows Sleeping Brain Acts As If It Is Remembering Something?

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December 11, 2012 in Technology




“But new findings from a UCLA study may help researchers better understand the connection between sleep and memory.

The study, a collaboration between researchers from UCLA and Heidelberg University in Germany, showed that the brain acts as if it is remembering information during sleep.

Sleep is the time when the brain can organize itself and settle information it learned throughout the day, said Michael Fanselow, a professor of psychology who specializes in learning and behavior.

“It’s like going to work but then having to go home and do housework (for your brain),” Fanselow said.

“If you don’t have the time to do housework, things start piling up and it gets so hectic you can’t even go to work,” he added.

Brain structures are all interconnected, though some of its sections have more in common than others.

Maynak Mehta, a UCLA professor of neurophysics, led the study.

Using mice as subjects, the research team primarily studied the hippocampus, neocortex and entorhinal cortex, all of which are important for learning and memory.

Although the hippocampus and neocortex occasionally “speak” to each other directly, the three sections of the brain mostly play a game of telephone, Mehta said.

The entorhinal cortex is the middleman, he said.

During the study, researchers attached electrodes to the brain cells of the mice and examined their brain patterns, said James McFarland, one of the lead authors of the study.

He was a postdoctoral researcher in the department of physics at the time of the study.

Throughout the sleep cycle, the neocortex shows a consistent pattern of being active for half a second, then inactive for another half a second.

Researchers have previously tried to look for this type of pattern.

Since the hippocampus, neocortex and entorhinal cortex work together, researchers expected the areas to behave the same during sleep, Mehta said.

The researchers thought they would see similar patterns in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, because the parts of the brain work together, he said.

“Surprisingly, that was not the case,” Mehta said.

Instead the team found that the entorhinal cortex was consistently working. even when the mice were sleeping, Mehta said. There were no periods of inactivity, like in the neocortex.

The findings may support the idea that sleep is essential for retaining and organizing thoughts and memories, Mehta said.

The results, however, do not point to any concrete conclusions about sleep and memory.

But the study may give rise to new questions and future research projects, McFarland said.

The next steps are to find out the precise relationships of the different parts of the brain, and find out how brain activity while sleeping is generated in the first place, he added.

“There are so many different facets to sleep,” he said. “This is just one more piece of the puzzle.”



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