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Learning during sleep?

If I can't remember this morning where I put my car keys last night, it's due to my memory failing me again. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg have been investigating how memories might be consolidated. Their new study offers the hitherto strongest proof that new information is transferred between the hippocampus, the short term memory area, and the cerebral cortex during sleep. According to their findings and contrary to previous assumptions, the cerebral cortex actively controls this transfer. The researchers developed a new technique for their investigations which promises previously impossible insight into the largely under-researched field of information processing in the brain (Nature Neuroscience, November 2006).

The question of how the brain stores or discards memories still remains largely unexplained. Many brain researchers regard the consolidation theory as the best approach so far. This states that fresh impressions are first stored as short-term memories in the hippocampus. They are then said to move within hours or a few days - usually during deep sleep - into the cerebral cortex where they enter long-term memory. Investigations by Thomas Hahn, Mayank Mehta and the Nobel Prize winner Bert Sakmann from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg have now shed new light on the mechanisms that create memory. According to their findings, the areas of the brain work together, but possibly in a different way from that previously assumed. "This is a technically sophisticated study which could have considerable influence on our understanding of how nerve cells interact during sleep consolidation," confirmed Edvard Moser, Director of the Centre for the Biology of Memory in Trondheim, Norway.

It has been difficult up to now to use experiments to examine the brain processes that create memory. The scientists in Heidelberg developed an innovative experimental approach especially for th
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Contact: Thomas Hahn
thahn@mpimf-heidelberg.mpg.de
49-622-148-6463
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
5-Dec-2006


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