Study uncovers how sleep encodes new memories and protects old ones

Using computational models, researchers examined how sleep encodes new memories all while protecting old ones from being damaged. The findings appeared in eLife.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, highlights continual learning during sleep, crucial in inhibiting the loss of memories.

During sleep, memories are reorganized and replayed in order to prevent the forgetting of old memories.

“The brain has evolved mechanisms to prevent catastrophic forgetting of old knowledge during new training. Building upon data suggesting importance of sleep in learning and memory, we tested a hypothesis that sleep protects old memories from forgetting,” the co-authors stated in their findings.

“In the thalamocortical model, training a new memory interfered with previously learned old memories leading to degradation and forgetting of the old memory traces.”

According to the findings, researchers found that “when a new memory competed for previously allocated neuronal/synaptic resources, sleep replay changed the synaptic footprint of the old memory to allow overlapping neuronal populations to store multiple memories.”

“We learn many new things on a daily basis and those memories compete with old memories. To accommodate all memories, we need sleep,” said Maksim Bazhenov, the study’s lead author, in a news release.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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