The hippocampus plays a key role in the acquisition of new memories for places and events. Evidence suggests that the consolidation of these memories is enhanced during sleep. At the neuronal level, reactivation of awake experience in the hippocampus during sharp-wave ripple events, characteristic of slow-wave sleep, has been proposed as a neural mechanism for sleep-dependent memory consolidation. However, a causal relation between sleep reactivation and memory consolidation has not been established. Here we show that disrupting neuronal activity during ripple events impairs spatial learning. We trained rats daily in two identical spatial navigation tasks followed each by a 1-hour rest period. After one of the tasks, stimulation of hippocampal afferents selectively disrupted neuronal activity associated with ripple events without changing the sleep-wake structure. Rats learned the control task significantly faster than the task followed by rest stimulation, indicating that interfering with hippocampal processing during sleep led to decreased learning.
Copyright 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.