Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Sleep after learning strengthens connections between brain cells and enhances memory

Date:
June 5, 2014
Source:
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine
Summary:
Researchers show for the first time that sleep after learning encourages the growth of dendritic spines, the tiny protrusions from brain cells that connect to other brain cells and facilitate the passage of information across synapses, the junctions at which brain cells meet.

A new study provides important physical evidence that sleep helps consolidate and strengthen new memories.
Credit: Steve Lovegrove / Fotolia

In study published today in Science, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center show for the first time that sleep after learning encourages the growth of dendritic spines, the tiny protrusions from brain cells that connect to other brain cells and facilitate the passage of information across synapses, the junctions at which brain cells meet. Moreover, the activity of brain cells during deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep, after learning is critical for such growth.

The findings, in mice, provide important physical evidence in support of the hypothesis that sleep helps consolidate and strengthen new memories, and show for the first time how learning and sleep cause physical changes in the motor cortex, a brain region responsible for voluntary movements.

"We've known for a long time that sleep plays an important role in learning and memory. If you don't sleep well you won't learn well," says senior investigator Wen-Biao Gan, PhD, professor of neuroscience and physiology and a member of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. "But what's the underlying physical mechanism responsible for this phenomenon? Here we've shown how sleep helps neurons form very specific connections on dendritic branches that may facilitate long-term memory. We also show how different types of learning form synapses on different branches of the same neurons, suggesting that learning causes very specific structural changes in the brain."

On the cellular level, sleep is anything but restful: Brain cells that spark as we digest new information during waking hours replay during deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, when brain waves slow down and rapid-eye movement, as well as dreaming, stops. Scientists have long believed that this nocturnal replay helps us form and recall new memories, yet the structural changes underpinning this process have remained poorly understood.

To shed light on this process, Dr. Gan and colleagues employed mice genetically engineered to express a fluorescent protein in neurons. Using a special laser-scanning microscope that illuminates the glowing fluorescent proteins in the motor cortex, the scientists were then able to track and image the growth of dendritic spines along individual branches of dendrites before and after mice learned to balance on a spin rod. Over time mice learned how to balance on the rod as it gradually spun faster. "It's like learning to ride a bike," says Dr. Gan. "Once you learn it, you never forget."

After documenting that mice, in fact, sprout new spines along dendritic branches, within six hours after training on the spinning rod, the researchers set out to understand how sleep would impact this physical growth. They trained two sets of mice: one trained on the spinning rod for an hour and then slept for 7 hours; the second trained for the same period of time on the rod but stayed awake for 7 hours. The scientists found that the sleep-deprived mice experienced significantly less dendritic spine growth than the well-rested mice. Furthermore, they found that the type of task learned determined which dendritic branches spines would grow.

Running forward on the spinning rod, for instance, produced spine growth on different dendritic branches than running backward on the rod, suggesting that learning specific tasks causes specific structural changes in the brain.

"Now we know that when we learn something new, a neuron will grow new connections on a specific branch," says Dr. Gan. "Imagine a tree that grows leaves (spines) on one branch but not another branch. When we learn something new, it's like we're sprouting leaves on a specific branch."

Finally, the scientists showed that brain cells in the motor cortex that activate when mice learn a task reactivate during slow-wave deep sleep. Disrupting this process, they found, prevents dendritic spine growth. Their findings offer an important insight into the functional role of neuronal replay -- the process by which the sleeping brain rehearses tasks learned during the day -- observed in the motor cortex.

"Our data suggest that neuronal reactivation during sleep is quite important for growing specific connections within the motor cortex," Dr. Gan adds.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. G. Yang, C. S. W. Lai, J. Cichon, L. Ma, W. Li, W.-B. Gan. Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning. Science, 2014; 344 (6188): 1173 DOI: 10.1126/science.1249098

Cite This Page:

NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine. "Sleep after learning strengthens connections between brain cells and enhances memory." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605141849.htm>.
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine. (2014, June 5). Sleep after learning strengthens connections between brain cells and enhances memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605141849.htm
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine. "Sleep after learning strengthens connections between brain cells and enhances memory." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605141849.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

AP (July 28, 2014) West African nations and international health organizations are working to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history. It's one of the deadliest diseases known to man, but the CDC says it's unlikely to spread in the U.S. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
$15B Deal on Vets' Health Care Reached

$15B Deal on Vets' Health Care Reached

AP (July 28, 2014) A bipartisan deal to improve veterans health care would authorize at least $15 billion in emergency spending to fix a veterans program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Two Americans Contract Ebola in Liberia

Two Americans Contract Ebola in Liberia

Reuters - US Online Video (July 28, 2014) Two American aid workers in Liberia test positive for Ebola while working to combat the deadliest outbreak of the virus ever. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

AP (July 28, 2014) Classes are being offered nationwide to encourage African Americans to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine. The program is trying to combat obesity, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins