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Learn Mem. 2011 Jun 15;18(7):422-34. doi: 10.1101/lm.2099011. Print 2011 Jul.

Spatial and reversal learning in the Morris water maze are largely resistant to six hours of REM sleep deprivation following training.

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Neuroscience Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


This first test of the role of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in reversal spatial learning is also the first attempt to replicate a much cited pair of papers reporting that REM sleep deprivation impairs the consolidation of initial spatial learning in the Morris water maze. We hypothesized that REM sleep deprivation following training would impair both hippocampus-dependent spatial learning and learning a new target location within a familiar environment: reversal learning. A 6-d protocol was divided into the initial spatial learning phase (3.5 d) immediately followed by the reversal phase (2.5 d). During the 6 h following four or 12 training trials/day of initial or reversal learning phases, REM sleep was eliminated and non-REM sleep left intact using the multiple inverted flowerpot method. Contrary to our hypotheses, REM sleep deprivation during four or 12 trials/day of initial spatial or reversal learning did not affect training performance. However, some probe trial measures indicated REM sleep-deprivation-associated impairment in initial spatial learning with four trials/day and enhancement of subsequent reversal learning. In naive animals, REM sleep deprivation during normal initial spatial learning was followed by a lack of preference for the subsequent reversal platform location during the probe. Our findings contradict reports that REM sleep is essential for spatial learning in the Morris water maze and newly reveal that short periods of REM sleep deprivation do not impair concurrent reversal learning. Effects on subsequent reversal learning are consistent with the idea that REM sleep serves the consolidation of incompletely learned items.

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