Not only … but also: REM sleep creates and NREM Stage 2 instantiates landmark junctions in cortical memory networks

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2015 Jul;122:69-87. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2015.04.005. Epub 2015 Apr 25.


This article argues both rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep contribute to overnight episodic memory processes but their roles differ. Episodic memory may have evolved from memory for spatial navigation in animals and humans. Equally, mnemonic navigation in world and mental space may rely on fundamentally equivalent processes. Consequently, the basic spatial network characteristics of pathways which meet at omnidirectional nodes or junctions may be conserved in episodic brain networks. A pathway is formally identified with the unidirectional, sequential phases of an episodic memory. In contrast, the function of omnidirectional junctions is not well understood. In evolutionary terms, both animals and early humans undertook tours to a series of landmark junctions, to take advantage of resources (food, water and shelter), whilst trying to avoid predators. Such tours required memory for emotionally significant landmark resource-place-danger associations and the spatial relationships amongst these landmarks. In consequence, these tours may have driven the evolution of both spatial and episodic memory. The environment is dynamic. Resource-place associations are liable to shift and new resource-rich landmarks may be discovered, these changes may require re-wiring in neural networks. To realise these changes, REM may perform an associative, emotional encoding function between memory networks, engendering an omnidirectional landmark junction which is instantiated in the cortex during NREM Stage 2. In sum, REM may preplay associated elements of past episodes (rather than replay individual episodes), to engender an unconscious representation which can be used by the animal on approach to a landmark junction in wake.

Keywords: Dreams; Episodic memory; Landmark junctions; NREM Stage 2; Preplay; REM; Sleep; Unconscious.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Sleep Stages
  • Sleep, REM / physiology*
  • Spatial Memory / physiology
  • Spatial Navigation / physiology