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Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Mar 15;61(6):750-7. Epub 2006 Dec 4.

The relationship between REM sleep and memory consolidation in old age and effects of cholinergic medication.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité-University Medicine Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Berlin, Germany.



Recent findings in young adults suggest that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep plays a role in procedural memory consolidation. The significance of REM sleep for memory consolidation in old age has not yet been investigated.


Effects of REM sleep manipulation on declarative and procedural memory consolidation were investigated in 107 healthy older adults, ages 60-82 years. Rapid eye movement sleep deprivation was achieved by REM sleep awakenings and compared with non-REM sleep awakenings. Rapid eye movement sleep augmentation was realized physiologically by REM sleep rebound and pharmacologically by administering an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor in a double-blind, placebo-controlled design. Memory performance was tested by a paired associate list and a mirror tracing task at 9:30 pm and 7:30 am with sleep intervening between 11:00 pm and 7:00 am.


Although REM sleep deprivation led to a significant reduction in total and phasic REM sleep, memory consolidation remained unaffected. Both REM sleep augmentation groups showed a significant increase in phasic REM sleep, whereas only pharmacological cholinergic REM sleep manipulation exerted a significant positive effect on procedural memory consolidation.


Because only after cholinergic stimulation of phasic REM sleep procedural memory consolidation is improved, cholinergic activation seems to be a crucial component of REM sleep-related memory consolidation in old age.

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