Researchers Discover that the Sleeping Brain Behaves as if it’s Remembering Something
UCLA researchers have for the first time measured the activity of a brain region known to be involved in learning, memory and Alzheimer’s disease during sleep. They discovered that this part of the brain behaves as if it’s remembering something, even under anesthesia, a finding that counters conventional theories about memory consolidation during sleep.
The research team simultaneously measured the activity of single neurons from multiple parts of the brain involved in memory formation. The technique allowed them to determine which brain region was activating other areas of the brain and how that activation was spreading, said study senior author Mayank R. Mehta, a professor of neurophysics in UCLA’s departments of neurology, neurobiology, physics and astronomy.
In particular, Mehta and his team looked at three connected brain regions in mice – the new brain or the neocortex, the old brain or the hippocampus, and the entorhinal cortex, an intermediate brain that connects the new and the old brains. While previous studies have suggested that the dialogue between the old and the new brain during sleep was critical for memory formation, researchers had not investigated the contribution of the entorhinal cortex to this conversation, which turned out to be a game changer, Mehta said. His team found that the entorhinal cortex showed what is called persistent activity, which is thought to mediate working memory during waking life, for example when people pay close attention to remember things temporarily, such as recalling a phone number or following directions.