Sleep Spindle Refractoriness Segregates Periods of Memory Reactivation

James W. Antony, Luis Piloto, Margaret Wang, Paula Pacheco, Kenneth A. Norman, Ken A. Paller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


The stability of long-term memories is enhanced by reactivation during sleep. Correlative evidence has linked memory reactivation with thalamocortical sleep spindles, although their functional role is not fully understood. Our initial study replicated this correlation and also demonstrated a novel rhythmicity to spindles, such that a spindle is more likely to occur approximately 3–6 s following a prior spindle. We leveraged this rhythmicity to test the role of spindles in memory by using real-time spindle tracking to present cues within versus just after the presumptive refractory period; as predicted, cues presented just after the refractory period led to better memory. Our findings demonstrate a precise temporal link between sleep spindles and memory reactivation. Moreover, they reveal a previously undescribed neural mechanism whereby spindles may segment sleep into two distinct substates: prime opportunities for reactivation and gaps that segregate reactivation events. Current memory models posit that declarative memory retention benefits from brief bursts of activity called sleep spindles. Using auditory cues to target memories during sleep and a real-time algorithm to track sleep spindles in the EEG, Antony et al. show that optimal memory reactivation is linked to rhythmic changes in spindle likelihood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1736-1743.e4
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 4 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


  • memory consolidation
  • memory reactivation
  • sleep
  • sleep spindle


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