Deep sleep reinforces learning of motor skills: Study

San Francisco– Neuroscientists at the University of California here have discovered that the animal brain reinforces motor skills during deep sleep.

In a study published in Nature Neuroscience on Sunday, the researchers found that during non-rapid eye movement, or non-REM, sleep, slow brain waves bolster neural touchpoints that are directly related to a task that was newly learned while awake, reports Xinhua news agency.

Led by Karunesh Ganguly, associate professor of neurology at University of California San Francisco, the team implanted electrodes in the motor region of rats’ brains to send electrical signals to a computer, which then drove movement of a detached mechanical device, in a system known as a brain-machine interface (BMI).

Karunesh Ganguly

Tanuj Gulati, a postdoctoral scholar and lead author of the study, explained that a particular neuron may normally be devoted to controlling a limb, but a new relationship of that neuron could be created with an external device.

The redirected neuron, in this case, will contribute to controlling the external device, and the researchers can track the activity of this neuron to see how the brain integrates this new association.

Gulati and huscolleagues connected neurons in rat brains to implanted electrodes, which controlled a mechanical water-spout.

The source of water was behind a tiny door facing away from the mice. Because the spout faced away, the rats had to learn to use a computer-driven mechanism to move it toward them. As the rats explored several strategies to control the spout, they sometimes activated neurons adjacent to the electrodes.

When the proper neurons were activated, the computer moved the water-spout.

“Eventually the rats learn to delink actual movements from the spout – they know they don’t really need to flinch their arm or do anything to make it move,” Gulati said.

“All they have to do is volitionally control the pipe and it will come to them.”

The researchers noticed that once rats got the hang of the task while awake, certain neural patterns kept “replaying” during sleep. And these same patterns persisted after the rats woke up, which led over time to improvements in the rats’ performance on the task.

The findings could lead to new medical stimulation devices, and consumer-driven wearable devices, or “electroceuticals”, which stimulate brain cells and improve learning as people snooze. (IANS)

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