Send to

Choose Destination
Physiol Rev. 2019 Dec 5. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00042.2018. [Epub ahead of print]

Sleep Spindles: Mechanisms and Functions.

Author information

Department of Fundamental Neurosciences, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
DNF, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.


Sleep spindles are burst-like signals in the electroencephalogram (EEG) of the sleeping mammalian brain and electrical surface correlates of neuronal oscillations in thalamus. As one of the most inheritable sleep EEG signatures, sleep spindles probably reflect the strength and malleability of thalamocortical circuits that underlie individual cognitive profiles. We review the characteristics, organization, regulation and origins of sleep spindles and their implication in non-rapid-eye-movement sleep (NREMS) and its functions, focusing on human and rodent. Spatially, sleep spindle-related neuronal activity appears on scales ranging from small thalamic circuits to functional cortical areas, and generates a cortical state favoring intracortical plasticity while limiting cortical output. Temporally, sleep spindles are discrete events, part of a continuous power band, and elements grouped on an infraslow time scale over which NREMS alternates between continuity and fragility. We synthetize diverse and seemingly unlinked functions of sleep spindles for sleep architecture, sensory processing, synaptic plasticity, memory formation and cognitive abilities into a unifying sleep spindle concept, according to which sleep spindles a) generate neural conditions of large-scale functional connectivity and plasticity that outlast their appearance as discrete EEG events, b) appear preferentially in thalamic circuits engaged in learning and attention-based experience during wakefulness c) enable a selective re-activation and routing of wake-instated neuronal traces between brain areas such as hippocampus and cortex. Their fine spatiotemporal organization reflects NREMS as a physiological state coordinated over brain and body and may indicate, if not anticipate and ultimately differentiate, pathologies in sleep and neurodevelopmental, -degenerative and -psychiatric conditions.


Schizophrenia; Sleep Disorders; Sleep regulation; Thalamus; ion channel


Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center