Prolonged rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep deprivation has long been used to study the role of REM sleep in learning and memory processes. However, this method potentially induces stress and fatigue that may directly affect cognitive functions. Here, by using a short-term and nonstressful REM sleep deprivation (RSD) method we assessed in rats the bidirectional influence of reduced and increased REM sleep amount on hippocampal-dependent emotional memory and plasticity. Our results indicate that 4 h RSD impaired consolidation of contextual fear conditioning (CFC) and induction of long-term potentiation (LTP), while decreasing density of Egr1/Zif268-expressing neurons in the CA1 region of the dorsal hippocampus. LTP and Egr1 expression were not affected in ventral CA1. Conversely, an increase in REM sleep restores and further facilitates CFC consolidation and LTP induction, and also increases Egr1 expression in dorsal CA1. Moreover, CFC consolidation, Egr1 neuron density, and LTP amplitude in dorsal CA1 show a positive correlation with REM sleep amount. Altogether, these results indicate that mild changes in REM sleep amount bidirectionally affect memory and synaptic plasticity mechanisms occurring in the CA1 area of the dorsal hippocampus.
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