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Sleep-dependent memory triage: evolving generalization through selective processing

Abstract

The brain does not retain all the information it encodes in a day. Much is forgotten, and of those memories retained, their subsequent evolution can follow any of a number of pathways. Emerging data makes clear that sleep is a compelling candidate for performing many of these operations. But how does the sleeping brain know which information to preserve and which to forget? What should sleep do with that information it chooses to keep? For information that is retained, sleep can integrate it into existing memory networks, look for common patterns and distill overarching rules, or simply stabilize and strengthen the memory exactly as it was learned. We suggest such 'memory triage' lies at the heart of a sleep-dependent memory processing system that selects new information, in a discriminatory manner, and assimilates it into the brain's vast armamentarium of evolving knowledge, helping guide each organism through its own, unique life.

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Figure 1: Selective memory consolidation.
Figure 2: Forms of memory evolution.
Figure 3: Examples of memory evolution.

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Acknowledgements

Support provided by US National Institutes of Health grants MH48832 and MH92638 (R.S.) and AG031164, MH093537 and DA031939 (M.P.W.). We thank E. Robertson, J. Chamberlain, M. Tucker, E. Wamsley, J. Saletin and I. Nieuwenhuis for discussions on these concepts and comments on this manuscript.

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Stickgold, R., Walker, M. Sleep-dependent memory triage: evolving generalization through selective processing. Nat Neurosci 16, 139–145 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3303

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