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Prog Neurobiol. 2003 Feb;69(2):71-101.

Cellular and molecular connections between sleep and synaptic plasticity.

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Department of Biology, St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, NY 14778, USA.


The hypothesis that sleep promotes learning and memory has long been a subject of active investigation. This hypothesis implies that sleep must facilitate synaptic plasticity in some way, and recent studies have provided evidence for such a function. Our knowledge of both the cellular neurophysiology of sleep states and of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying synaptic plasticity has expanded considerably in recent years. In this article, we review findings in these areas and discuss possible mechanisms whereby the neurophysiological processes characteristic of sleep states may serve to facilitate synaptic plasticity. We address this issue first on the cellular level, considering how activation of T-type Ca(2+) channels in nonREM sleep may promote either long-term depression or long-term potentiation, as well as how cellular events of REM sleep may influence these processes. We then consider how synchronization of neuronal activity in thalamocortical and hippocampal-neocortical networks in nonREM sleep and REM sleep could promote differential strengthening of synapses according to the degree to which activity in one neuron is synchronized with activity in other neurons in the network. Rather than advocating one specific cellular hypothesis, we have intentionally taken a broad approach, describing a range of possible mechanisms whereby sleep may facilitate synaptic plasticity on the cellular and/or network levels. We have also provided a general review of evidence for and against the hypothesis that sleep does indeed facilitate learning, memory, and synaptic plasticity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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