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Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2015;25:207-37. doi: 10.1007/7854_2014_349.

A Bird's Eye View of Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation.

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Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, 1027 E. 57th Street, Chicago, IL, 60637, USA,


How new experiences are solidified into long-lasting memories is a central question in the study of brain and behavior. One of the most intriguing discoveries in memory research is that brain activity during sleep helps to transform newly learned information and skills into robust memories. Though the first experimental work linking sleep and memory was conducted 90 years ago by Jenkins and Dallenbach, the case for sleep-dependent memory consolidation has only garnered strong support in the last decade. Recent studies in humans provide extensive behavioral, imaging, and polysomnographic data supporting sleep consolidation of a broad range of memory tasks. Likewise, studies in a few animal model systems have elucidated potential mechanisms contributing to sleep consolidation such as neural reactivation and synaptic homeostasis. Here, we present an overview of sleep-dependent memory consolidation, focusing on how investigations of sleep and learning in birds have complemented the progress made in mammalian systems by emphasizing a strong connection between behavior and physiology. We begin by describing the behavioral approach that has been utilized to demonstrate sleep consolidation in humans. We then address neural reactivation in the rodent hippocampal system as a putative mechanism of sleep consolidation. Next, we discuss the role of sleep in the learning and maintenance of song in zebra finches. We note that while both the rodent and zebra finch systems provide evidence for sleep-dependent memory changes in physiology and behavior, neither duplicates the pattern of changes most commonly observed in humans. Finally, we present a recently developed model of sleep consolidation involving auditory classification learning in European starlings , which has the potential to connect behavioral evidence of sleep consolidation as developed in humans with underlying neural mechanisms observable in animals.

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