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Local sleep and learning


Human sleep is a global state whose functions remain unclear. During much of sleep, cortical neurons undergo slow oscillations in membrane potential, which appear in electroencephalograms as slow wave activity (SWA) of <4 Hz1. The amount of SWA is homeostatically regulated, increasing after wakefulness and returning to baseline during sleep2. It has been suggested that SWA homeostasis may reflect synaptic changes underlying a cellular need for sleep3. If this were so, inducing local synaptic changes should induce local SWA changes, and these should benefit neural function. Here we show that sleep homeostasis indeed has a local component, which can be triggered by a learning task involving specific brain regions. Furthermore, we show that the local increase in SWA after learning correlates with improved performance of the task after sleep. Thus, sleep homeostasis can be induced on a local level and can benefit performance.

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Figure 1: Rotation adaptation.
Figure 2: Local SWA homeostasis during sleep after rotation adaptation.
Figure 3: Frequency specificity, time course and anatomical localization of local SWA homeostasis.
Figure 4: Enhancement of performance after sleep and its relationship to SWA.


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We thank C. Cirelli, F. Ferrarelli and T. Shakhnovich for their help, colleagues at WISPIC and Columbia for their comments on the manuscript, and R. Davidson and A. Alexander at the Keck Center for support with EEG and MRI facilities. This work was supported by grants from the Swiss Foundation for Fellowships in Biology and Medicine to R.H., from the NINDS to M.F.G, from the National Sleep Foundation to M.M. and from the NIMH to G.T.

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Correspondence to Giulio Tononi.

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Huber, R., Felice Ghilardi, M., Massimini, M. et al. Local sleep and learning. Nature 430, 78–81 (2004).

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