Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sleep may help clear the brain for new learning

06.04.2009
A new theory about sleep's benefits for the brain gets a boost from fruit flies in this week's Science. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found evidence that sleep, already recognized as a promoter of long-term memories, also helps clear room in the brain for new learning.

The critical question: How many synapses, or junctures where nerve cells communicate with each other, are modified by sleep? Neurologists believe creation of new synapses is one key way the brain encodes memories and learning, but this cannot continue unabated and may be where sleep comes in.

"There are a number of reasons why the brain can't indefinitely add synapses, including the finite spatial constraints of the skull," says senior author Paul Shaw, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "We were able to track the creation of new synapses in fruit flies during learning experiences, and to show that sleep pushed that number back down."

Scientists don't yet know how the synapses are eliminated. According to theory, only the less important connections are trimmed back, while connections encoding important memories are maintained.

Many aspects of fly sleep are similar to human sleep; for example, flies and humans deprived of sleep one day will try to make up for the loss by sleeping more the next day. Because the human brain is much more complex, Shaw uses the flies as models for answering questions about sleep and memory.

Sleep is a recognized promoter of learning, but three years ago Shaw turned that association around and revealed that learning increases the need for sleep in the fruit fly. In a 2006 paper in Science, he and his colleagues found that two separate scenarios, each of which gave the fruit fly's brain a workout, increased the need for sleep.

The first scenario was inspired by human research linking an enriched environment to improved memory and other brain functions. Scientists found that flies raised in an enhanced social environment—a test tube full of other flies—slept approximately 2-3 hours longer than flies raised in isolation.

Researchers also gave male fruit flies their first exposure to female fruit flies, but with a catch—the females were either already mated or were actually male flies altered to emit female pheromones. Either fly rebuffed the test fly's attempts to mate. The test flies were then kept in isolation for two days and exposed to receptive female flies. Test flies that remembered their prior failures didn't try to mate again; they also slept more. Researchers concluded that these flies had encoded memories of their prior experience, more directly proving the connection between sleep and new memories.

Scientists repeated these tests for the new study, but this time they used flies genetically altered to make it possible to track the development of new synapses, the junctures at which brain cells communicate.

"The biggest surprise was that out of 200,000 fly brain cells, only 16 were required for the formation of new memories, " says first author Jeffrey Donlea, a graduate student. "These sixteen are lateral ventral neurons, which are part of the circadian circuitry that let the fly brain perform certain behaviors at particular times of day."

When flies slept, the number of new synapses formed during social enrichment decreased. When researchers deprived them of their sleep, the decline did not occur.

Donlea identified three genes essential to the links between learning and increased need for sleep: rutabaga, period and blistered. Flies lacking any of those genes did not have increased need for sleep after social enrichment or the mating test.

Blistered is the fruit fly equivalent to a human gene known as serum response factor (SRF). Scientists have previously linked SRF to plasticity, a term for brain change that includes both learning and memory and the general ability of the brain to rewire itself to adapt to injury or changing needs.

The new study shows that SRF could offer an important advantage for scientists hoping to study plasticity: unlike other genes connected to plasticity, it's not also associated with cell survival.

"That's going to be very helpful to our efforts to study plasticity, because it removes a large confounding factor," says co-author Naren Ramanan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology. "We can alter SRF activity and not have to worry about whether the resulting changes in brain function come from changes in plasticity or from dying cells."

Shaw plans further investigations of the connections between memory and sleep, including the question of how increased synapses induce the need for sleep.

"Right now a lot of people are worried about their jobs and the economy, and some are no doubt losing sleep over these concerns," Shaw says. "But these data suggest the best thing you can do to make sure you stay sharp and increase your chances of keeping your job is to make getting enough sleep a top priority."

Donlea JM, Ramanan N, Shaw PJ. Use-dependent plasticity in clock neurons regulates sleep need in Drosophila.

Science, April 3, 2009.

Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Michael C. Purdy | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wustl.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht The personality factor: How to foster the sharing of research data
06.09.2017 | ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft

nachricht Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>