The role of sleep in brain development

Feb 21, 2010

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Marcos Frank, PhD, associate professor of Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, will present information on early brain development and the importance of sleep during early life when the brain is rapidly maturing and highly changeable.

Building on his research that the brain during is fundamentally different from the brain during wakefulness, Dr. Frank has found that cellular changes in the sleeping brain that may promote the formation of memories. "This is the first real direct insight into how the brain, on a cellular level, changes the strength of its connections during sleep," Frank says.

When an animal goes to sleep it's like a switch is thrown, everything is turned on that's necessary for making synaptic changes that form the basis of . The team used an animal model of cortical plasticity - the making and breaking of in response to life experiences. They found that once the is triggered to reorganize its neural networks in wakefulness (by visual deprivation, for instance), intra- and intercellular communication pathways engage, setting a series of enzymes into action within the reorganizing neurons during sleep.

The key cellular player in this process is a molecule called N-methyl D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR), which acts like a combination listening post and gate-keeper. It both receives extracellular signals in the form of glutamate and regulates the flow of into cells.

"As soon as the animal had a chance to sleep, we saw all the machinery of memory start to engage." Frank will discuss recent experiments and how these relate to memory formation at the molecular level, why humans need sleep, and why they are so affected by the lack of it.

Explore further: Lucid dreams and metacognition: Awareness of thinking—awareness of dreaming

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why Sleep is Needed to Form Memories

Feb 11, 2009

If you ever argued with your mother when she told you to get some sleep after studying for an exam instead of pulling an all-nighter, you owe her an apology, because it turns out she's right. And now, scientists ...

Support cells, not neurons, lull the brain to sleep

Jan 28, 2009

Brain cells called astrocytes help to cause the urge to sleep that comes with prolonged wakefulness, according to a study in mice, funded by the National Institutes of Health. The cells release adenosine, a chemical known ...

Give it time, and sleep

Apr 17, 2007

Researchers at McGill University and Harvard Medical School have established a direct link between sleep and improved relational memory function. Their study is published today in the April 16 online edition of Proceedings of ...

Recommended for you

The brain's electrical alphabet

Jan 23, 2015

The brain's alphabet is a mix of rate and precise timing of electrical pulses: the observation was made by researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste and the Italian Institute ...

Dragnet for epilepsy genes

Jan 23, 2015

An international team of scientists together with the University of Bonn Hospital have taken a new path in the research into causes of epilepsy: The researchers determined the networks of the active genes ...

The molecular biology behind ALS

Jan 23, 2015

UA researchers have identified a molecular defect in motor neurons that may help explain the mechanisms underlying ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.