Sleep helps the brain reorganize, new study shows

"Now we know that during spindles, specific pathways are activated in dendrites, maybe allowing our memories to be reinforced during sleep," said researcher Julie Seibt.
By Brooks Hays  |  Oct. 2, 2017 at 1:15 PM
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Oct. 2 (UPI) -- New research has revealed the vital role sleep plays in enabling the brain's plasticity -- the brain's ability to change, grow and reorganize itself in order to accommodate new information.

The study, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, was made possible by new methods for recording brain activity during sleep.

Scientists used a new technique to target a region of the brain, called the dendrites, responsible for the formation of new memories and the incorporation of new information. The recordings revealed increases in brain activity among the dendrites during sleep.

The recording also linked the increase in activity with a specific type of brain wave believed to be key to memory formation.

"Our brains are amazing and fascinating organs -- they have the ability to change and adapt based on our experiences," Julie Seibt, a neuroscientist at the University of Surrey, said in a news release. "It is becoming increasingly clear that sleep plays an important role in these adaptive changes. Our study tells us that a large proportion of these changes may occur during very short and repetitive brain waves called spindles."

Scientists have long believed spindles to play an important role in the formation of new memories, but researchers weren't sure what exactly their role was. The latest findings offer new insights into the importance of spindles.

"Now we know that during spindles, specific pathways are activated in dendrites, maybe allowing our memories to be reinforced during sleep," said Seibt, who lectures on sleep and plasticity at Surrey.

Researchers believe emerging technologies, like transcranial magnetic stimulation, could be used in the near future to mimic the frequencies of spindles and excite dormant dendrites.

"This could lead to enhance cognitive functions in patients with learning and memory disorders, such as dementia," Seibt said.

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