Animal studies on the role of sleep in memory: From behavioral performance to molecular mechanisms

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Although the exact functions of sleep remain a topic of debate, several hypotheses propose that sleep benefits neuronal plasticity, which ultimately supports brain function and cognition. For over a century, researchers have applied a wide variety of behavioral, electrophysiological, biochemical and molecular approaches to study how memory processes are promoted by sleep and perturbed by sleep loss. Interestingly, experimental studies indicate that cognitive impairments as a consequence of sleep deprivation appear to be most severe with learning and memory processes that require the hippocampus, which suggests that this brain region is particularly sensitive to the consequences of sleep loss. Moreover, recent studies in laboratory rodents indicate that sleep deprivation impairs hippocampal neuronal plasticity and memory processes by attenuating intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) - protein kinase A (PKA) signaling. Attenuated cAMP-PKA signaling can lead to a reduced activity of the transcription factor cAMP response element binding protein (CREB) and ultimately affect the expression of genes and proteins involved in neuronal plasticity and memory formation. Pharmacogenetic experiments in mice show that memory deficits following sleep deprivation can be prevented by specifically boosting cAMP signaling in excitatory neurons of the hippocampus. Given the high incidence of sleep disturbance and sleep restriction in our 24/7 society, understanding the consequences of sleep loss and unraveling the underlying molecular mechanisms is of great importance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSleep, Neuronal Plasticity and Brain Function
EditorsPeter Meerlo, Ruth M. Benca, Ted Abel
Place of PublicationBerlin
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-662-46878-4
ISBN (Print)978-3-662-46877-7
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

Name Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences
ISSN (Print)1866-3370
ISSN (Electronic)1866-3389


  • sleep
  • sleep loss
  • sleep deprivation
  • sleep disturbance
  • learning
  • memory
  • long-term potentiation
  • LTP
  • neuronal plasticity
  • cAMP
  • PDE
  • CREB
  • mTOR

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