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Old Brains Come Uncoupled in Sleep: Slow Wave-Spindle Synchrony, Brain Atrophy, and Forgetting.

  • Author(s): Helfrich, Randolph F
  • Mander, Bryce A
  • Jagust, William J
  • Knight, Robert T
  • Walker, Matthew P
  • et al.
Abstract

The coupled interaction between slow-wave oscillations and sleep spindles during non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep has been proposed to support memory consolidation. However, little evidence in humans supports this theory. Moreover, whether such dynamic coupling is impaired as a consequence of brain aging in later life, contributing to cognitive and memory decline, is unknown. Combining electroencephalography (EEG), structural MRI, and sleep-dependent memory assessment, we addressed these questions in cognitively normal young and older adults. Directional cross-frequency coupling analyses demonstrated that the slow wave governs a precise temporal coordination of sleep spindles, the quality of which predicts overnight memory retention. Moreover, selective atrophy within the medial frontal cortex in older adults predicted a temporal dispersion of this slow wave-spindle coupling, impairing overnight memory consolidation and leading to forgetting. Prefrontal-dependent deficits in the spatiotemporal coordination of NREM sleep oscillations therefore represent one pathway explaining age-related memory decline.

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