According to a recent study published in the journal Neuroscience of Nature, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles Health (UCLA Health) and Tel Aviv University have discovered that electrical stimulation to specific regions of the brain during deep sleep can improve memory. The study provides recordings from inside the brain that support one of the leading theories about memory consolidation during sleep.
A long-standing theory suggests that the brain converts new data it has collected during the day into long-term memories during sleep. At the heart of this ability, sleep scientists suggest, is crosstalk between the brain’s memory center, the hippocampus, and the seat of higher cognition, the cerebral cortex while we sleep.
The team led by Fried Itzhak, professor of neurosurgery, psychiatry, and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine implanted electrodes in 18 patients hospitalized with epilepsy at UCLA Health. The electrodes allowed their doctors to identify their seizure source. Over two nights and mornings before sleeping on both occasions, they were shown 25 pairs of cards consisting of animals matching iconic celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. Their ability to recall was then tested.
On night two while they slept, specific electrical signals were sent to their brains via a closed-loop system designed to wait until brain signals characteristic of deep sleep were recognized before sending out gentle pulses of stimulation to help synchronize rapidly firing neurons. Stimulation targeting other brain regions had more mixed results.
The team says their data supports the idea that connections between the hippocampus and cerebral cortex are an important factor in this memory consolidation. “We found that we basically improved this pathway by which information flows to more permanent storage places in the brain,” Fried said.
Their next goal is to target specific memories rather than just general recall. “In our new study, we show that we can improve memory in general,” Fried continued. “Our next challenge is whether we have the ability to modulate specific memories.”
The study’s findings are significant, as they offer a new method for improving memory consolidation during sleep. The researchers’ use of electrical stimulation to the brain could provide a new treatment option for those suffering from memory impairment or loss.
According to source familiar with the matter, “Brain Stimulation During Deep Sleep May Boost Recall Memory.”