A new study in eLife may explain why sleep deprivation is detrimental to memory.
Research has long found that rest and memory are correlated: depriving animals and humans of sleep negatively affects the process in which short-term memories are converted into long-term ones—known a "memory consolidation," which takes place in the "mushroom body" of the brain.
A new paper from researchers at from Brandeis University argues that memory neurons activated during this process actually cause subjects to fall asleep.
Working with Drosophila flies, Paula Haynes and Bethany Christmann activated dorsal paired medial (DPM) neurons, which are known memory consolidators in the insects. They found that those with activated neurons slept more.
"It's almost as if that section of the mushroom body were saying 'hey, stay awake and learn this,'" says Christmann. "Then, after a while, the DPM neurons start signaling to suppress that section, as if to say 'you're going to need sleep if you want to remember this later.'"
While the flies' brains are not exact replicas of human ones, knowing the relationship between sleep and memory in a simple system such as the fly "can allow researchers to narrow their search in humans," says Christmann, and in the future may provide insight into disorders such as insomnia (Science Daily, 1/23).
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