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Schreiner, Thomas; Petzka, Marit; Staudigl, Tobias and Staresina, Bernhard P. (25. May 2021): Endogenous memory reactivation during sleep in humans is clocked by slow oscillation-spindle complexes. In: Nature Communications, Vol. 12, 3112 [PDF, 2MB]


Sleep is thought to support memory consolidation via reactivation of prior experiences, with particular electrophysiological sleep signatures (slow oscillations (SOs) and sleep spindles) gating the information flow between relevant brain areas. However, empirical evidence for a role of endogenous memory reactivation (i.e., without experimentally delivered memory cues) for consolidation in humans is lacking. Here, we devised a paradigm in which participants acquired associative memories before taking a nap. Multivariate decoding was then used to capture endogenous memory reactivation during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep in surface EEG recordings. Our results reveal reactivation of learning material during SO-spindle complexes, with the precision of SO-spindle coupling predicting reactivation strength. Critically, reactivation strength (i.e. classifier evidence in favor of the previously studied stimulus category) in turn predicts the level of consolidation across participants. These results elucidate the memory function of sleep in humans and emphasize the importance of SOs and spindles in clocking endogenous consolidation processes.

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