Promoting Sleep Oscillations and Their Functional Coupling by Transcranial Stimulation Enhances Memory Consolidation in Mild Cognitive Impairment

J Neurosci. 2017 Jul 26;37(30):7111-7124. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0260-17.2017. Epub 2017 Jun 21.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) not only involves loss of memory functions, but also prominent deterioration of sleep physiology, which is already evident at the stage of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Cortical slow oscillations (SO; 0.5-1 Hz) and thalamocortical spindle activity (12-15 Hz) during sleep, and their temporal coordination, are considered critical for memory formation. We investigated the potential of slow oscillatory transcranial direct current stimulation (so-tDCS), applied during a daytime nap in a sleep-state-dependent manner, to modulate these activity patterns and sleep-related memory consolidation in nine male and seven female human patients with MCI. Stimulation significantly increased overall SO and spindle power, amplified spindle power during SO up-phases, and led to stronger synchronization between SO and spindle power fluctuations in EEG recordings. Moreover, visual declarative memory was improved by so-tDCS compared with sham stimulation and was associated with stronger synchronization. These findings indicate a well-tolerated therapeutic approach for disordered sleep physiology and memory deficits in MCI patients and advance our understanding of offline memory consolidation.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT In the light of increasing evidence that sleep disruption is crucially involved in the progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD), sleep appears as a promising treatment target in this pathology, particularly to counteract memory decline. This study demonstrates the potential of a noninvasive brain stimulation method during sleep in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a precursor of AD, and advances our understanding of its mechanism. We provide first time evidence that slow oscillatory transcranial stimulation amplifies the functional cross-frequency coupling between memory-relevant brain oscillations and improves visual memory consolidation in patients with MCI.

Keywords: declarative memory; mild cognitive impairment; phase-amplitude coupling; sleep; transcranial electrical stimulation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biological Clocks
  • Brain Waves*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / complications
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Consolidation*
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Memory Disorders / therapy
  • Sleep*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome