The adult brain is not static but continuously experiences plastic changes in its structure and/or function. In particular motor learning allows to acquire new skills such as the ability to manipulate tools accurately, hit a target or drive a car implicitly. Abundant experimental evidence suggests that learning motor skills involving aiming and/or hitting visual targets (with a joystick or other tool) activates motor areas (M1, PPC, CB). It also generates long term memories that consolidate both during the day and during the night. The last decade has seen remarkable progress in the identification of the neural signatures of sleep-dependent consolidation for declarative memories and it is commonly suggested that the precise interaction between slow oscillations (SO) and sleep spindles is important for the nocturnal consolidation of these memories. My work is focused in examine whether this coupling and/or other brain oscillations are also relevant for the consolidation of long-term motor memories.
University of Buenos Aires
National University of Entre Rios (AR)
Sleep spindles are thought to promote memory consolidation. Recently, we have shown that visuomotor adaptation (VMA) learning increases the density of spindles and promotes the coupling between spindles and slow oscillations, locally, with the level of spindle-SO synchrony predicting overnight memory retention. Yet, growing evidence suggests that the rhythmicity in spindle occurrence may also influence the stabilization of declarative and procedural memories. Here, we examined if VMA learning promotes the temporal organization of sleep spindles into trains. We found that VMA increased the proportion of spindles and spindle-SO couplings in trains. In agreement with our previous work, this modulation was observed over the contralateral hemisphere to the trained hand, and predicted overnight memory retention. Interestingly, spindles grouped in a cluster showed greater amplitude and duration than isolated spindles. The fact that these features increased as a function of train length, provides evidence supporting a biological advantage of this temporal arrangement. Our work opens the possibility that the periodicity of NREM oscillations may be relevant in the stabilization of procedural memories.
Recent studies from us and others suggest that traditionally declarative structures mediate some aspects of the encoding and consolidation of procedural memories. This evidence points to the existence of converging physiological pathways across memory systems. Here, we examined whether the coupling between slow oscillations (SO) and spindles, a mechanism well established in the consolidation of declarative memories, is relevant for the stabilization of human motor memories. To this aim, we conducted an electroencephalography study in which we quantified various parameters of these oscillations during a night of sleep that took place immediately after learning a visuomotor adaptation (VMA) task. We found that VMA increased the overall density of fast (≥12 Hz), but not slow (<12 Hz), spindles during nonrapid eye movement sleep, stage 3 (NREM3). This modulation occurred rather locally over the hemisphere contralateral to the trained hand. Although adaptation learning did not affect the density of SOs, it substantially enhanced the number of fast spindles locked to the active phase of SOs. The fact that only coupled spindles predicted overnight memory retention points to the relevance of this association in motor memory consolidation. Our work provides evidence in favor of a common mechanism at the basis of the stabilization of declarative and motor memories.