Phase of spontaneous slow oscillations during sleep influences memory-related processing of auditory cues

Laura J. Batterink*, Jessica D. Creery, Ken A. Paller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Slow oscillations during slow-wave sleep (SWS) may facilitate memory consolidation by regulating interactions between hippocampal and cortical networks. Slow oscillations appear as high-amplitude, synchronized EEG activity, corresponding to upstates of neuronal depolarization and downstates of hyperpolarization. Memory reactivations occur spontaneously during SWS, and can also be induced by presenting learning-related cues associated with a prior learning episode during sleep. This technique, targeted memory reactivation (TMR), selectively enhances memory consolidation. Given that memory reactivation is thought to occur preferentially during the slow-oscillation upstate, we hypothesized that TMR stimulation effects would depend on the phase of the slow oscillation. Participants learned arbitrary spatial locations for objects that were each paired with a characteristic sound (eg, cat-meow). Then, duringSWSperiods of an afternoon nap, one-half of the sounds were presented at low intensity.Whenobject location memory was subsequently tested, recall accuracy was significantly better for those objects cued during sleep. We report here for the first time that this memory benefit was predicted by slow-wave phase at the time of stimulation. For cued objects, location memories were categorized according to amount of forgetting from pre-to post-nap. Conditions of high versus low forgetting corresponded to stimulation timing at different slowoscillation phases, suggesting that learning-related stimuli were more likely to be processed and trigger memory reactivation when they occurred at the optimal phase of a slow oscillation. These findings provide insight into mechanisms of memory reactivation during sleep, supporting the idea that reactivation is most likely during cortical upstates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1401-1409
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 27 2016


  • Memory consolidation
  • Memory reactivation
  • Phase
  • Slow oscillation
  • Slow-wave sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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