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Learning during sleep?

is purpose. They succeeded in measuring the membrane potential of individual interneurones (neurones that suppress the activity of the hippocampus) in anaethetised mice. At the same time, they recorded the field potential of thousands of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex. This allowed them to link the behaviour of the individual nerve cells with that of the cerebral cortex. The researchers discovered that the interneurones they examined are active at almost the same time as the field potential of the cerebral cortex. There was just a slight delay, like an echo.

This was a surprising finding, because the interneurones suppress those neurones in the hippocampus which are supposed to write information to the cerebral cortex precisely during phases of high activity. According to Mayank Mehta the result can be interpreted in very different ways. "Either the mechanism contributes to memory consolidation, or the information transfer from one part of the brain to another during sleep does not proceed as we have previously assumed." The brain researchers now want to find out which of the possible explanations applies.

In any case, the scientists can use their new experimental method to investigate many other open questions in brain research. Thomas Hahn emphasised: "Putting the behaviour of a single neuron in the context of wider-scale patterns of activity promises to yield completely new insights into the principles according to which our brain is organised."


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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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