Targeted memory reactivation during sleep elicits neural signals related to learning content

Boyu Wang, James W. Antony, Sarah Lurie, Paula P. Brooks, Ken A. Paller, Kenneth A. Norman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Retrieval of learning-related neural activity patterns is thought to drive memory stabilization. However, finding reliable, noninvasive, content-specific indicators of memory retrieval remains a central challenge. Here, we attempted to decode the content of retrieved memories in the EEG during sleep. During encoding, male and female human subjects learned to associate spatial locations of visual objects with left- or right-hand movements, and each object was accompanied by an inherently related sound. During subsequent slow-wave sleep within an afternoon nap, we presented half of the sound cues that were associated (during wake) with left- and right-hand movements before bringing subjects back for a final postnap test. We trained a classifier on sleep EEG data (focusing on lateralized EEG features that discriminated left- vs right-sided trials during wake) to predict learning content when we cued the memories during sleep. Discrimination performance was significantly above chance and predicted subsequent memory, supporting the idea that retrieval leads to memory stabilization. Moreover, these lateralized signals increased with postcue sleep spindle power, demonstrating that retrieval has a strong relationship with spindles. These results show that lateralized activity related to individual memories can be decoded from sleep EEG, providing an effective indicator of offline retrieval.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6728-6736
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number34
StatePublished - Aug 21 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


  • Episodic memory
  • Memory consolidation
  • Memory reactivation
  • Multivariate pattern analysis
  • Sleep


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