The role of sleep spindles and slow-wave activity in integrating new information in semantic memory

Jakke Tamminen, Matthew A. Lambon Ralph, Penelope A. Lewis

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Assimilating new information into existing knowledge is a fundamental part of consolidating new memories and allowing them to guide behavior optimally and is vital for conceptual knowledge (semantic memory), which is accrued over many years. Sleep is important for memory consolidation, but its impact upon assimilation of new information into existing semantic knowledge has received minimal examination. Here, we examined the integration process by training human participants on novel words with meanings that fell into densely or sparsely populated areas of semantic memory in two separate sessions. Overnight sleep was polysomnographically monitored after each training session and recall was tested immediately after training, after a night of sleep, and 1 week later. Results showed that participants learned equal numbers of both word types, thus equating amount and difficulty of learning across the conditions. Measures of word recognition speed showed a disadvantage for novel words in dense semantic neighborhoods, presumably due to interference from many semantically related concepts, suggesting that the novel words had been successfully integrated into semantic memory. Most critically, semantic neighborhood density influenced sleep architecture, with participants exhibiting more sleep spindles and slow-wave activity after learning the sparse compared with the dense neighborhood words. These findings provide the first evidence that spindles and slow-wave activity mediate integration of new information into existing semantic networks. © 2013 the authors.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)15376-15381
    Number of pages5
    JournalJournal of Neuroscience
    Issue number39
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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