Hippocampal memory consolidation during sleep: a comparison of mammals and birds

Niels C Rattenborg, Dolores Martinez-Gonzalez, Timothy C Roth, Vladimir V Pravosudov
Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 2011, 86 (3): 658-91
The transition from wakefulness to sleep is marked by pronounced changes in brain activity. The brain rhythms that characterize the two main types of mammalian sleep, slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, are thought to be involved in the functions of sleep. In particular, recent theories suggest that the synchronous slow-oscillation of neocortical neuronal membrane potentials, the defining feature of SWS, is involved in processing information acquired during wakefulness. According to the Standard Model of memory consolidation, during wakefulness the hippocampus receives input from neocortical regions involved in the initial encoding of an experience and binds this information into a coherent memory trace that is then transferred to the neocortex during SWS where it is stored and integrated within preexisting memory traces. Evidence suggests that this process selectively involves direct connections from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a multimodal, high-order association region implicated in coordinating the storage and recall of remote memories in the neocortex. The slow-oscillation is thought to orchestrate the transfer of information from the hippocampus by temporally coupling hippocampal sharp-wave/ripples (SWRs) and thalamocortical spindles. SWRs are synchronous bursts of hippocampal activity, during which waking neuronal firing patterns are reactivated in the hippocampus and neocortex in a coordinated manner. Thalamocortical spindles are brief 7-14 Hz oscillations that may facilitate the encoding of information reactivated during SWRs. By temporally coupling the readout of information from the hippocampus with conditions conducive to encoding in the neocortex, the slow-oscillation is thought to mediate the transfer of information from the hippocampus to the neocortex. Although several lines of evidence are consistent with this function for mammalian SWS, it is unclear whether SWS serves a similar function in birds, the only taxonomic group other than mammals to exhibit SWS and REM sleep. Based on our review of research on avian sleep, neuroanatomy, and memory, although involved in some forms of memory consolidation, avian sleep does not appear to be involved in transferring hippocampal memories to other brain regions. Despite exhibiting the slow-oscillation, SWRs and spindles have not been found in birds. Moreover, although birds independently evolved a brain region--the caudolateral nidopallium (NCL)--involved in performing high-order cognitive functions similar to those performed by the PFC, direct connections between the NCL and hippocampus have not been found in birds, and evidence for the transfer of information from the hippocampus to the NCL or other extra-hippocampal regions is lacking. Although based on the absence of evidence for various traits, collectively, these findings suggest that unlike mammalian SWS, avian SWS may not be involved in transferring memories from the hippocampus. Furthermore, it suggests that the slow-oscillation, the defining feature of mammalian and avian SWS, may serve a more general function independent of that related to coordinating the transfer of information from the hippocampus to the PFC in mammals. Given that SWS is homeostatically regulated (a process intimately related to the slow-oscillation) in mammals and birds, functional hypotheses linked to this process may apply to both taxonomic groups.

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