Although numerous studies have convincingly demonstrated that sleep plays a critical role in motor sequence learning (MSL) consolidation, the specific contribution of the different sleep stages in this type of memory consolidation is still contentious. To probe the role of stage 2 non-REM sleep (NREM2) in this process, we used a conditioning protocol in three different groups of participants who either received an odor during initial training on a motor sequence learning task and were re-exposed to this odor during different sleep stages of the post-training night (i.e., NREM2 sleep [Cond-NREM2], REM sleep [Cond-REM], or were not conditioned during learning but exposed to the odor during NREM2 [NoCond]). Results show that the Cond-NREM2 group had significantly higher gains in performance at retest than both the Cond-REM and NoCond groups. Also, only the Cond-NREM2 group yielded significant changes in sleep spindle characteristics during cueing. Finally, we found that a change in frequency of sleep spindles during cued-memory reactivation mediated the relationship between the experimental groups and gains in performance the next day. These findings strongly suggest that cued-memory reactivation during NREM2 sleep triggers an increase in sleep spindle activity that is then related to the consolidation of motor sequence memories.
Laventure, S., Fogel, S., Lungu, O., Albouy, G., Sévigny-Dupont, P., Vien, C., … Doyon, J. (2016). NREM2 and Sleep Spindles Are Instrumental to the Consolidation of Motor Sequence Memories. PLoS Biology, 14(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002429