How are brief encounters transformed into lasting memories? Previous research has established the role of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, along with its electrophysiological signatures of slow oscillations (SOs) and spindles, for memory consolidation [1-4]. In related work, experimental manipulations have demonstrated that NREM sleep provides a window of opportunity to selectively strengthen particular memory traces via the delivery of auditory cues [5-10], a procedure known as targeted memory reactivation (TMR). It has remained unclear, however, whether TMR triggers the brain's endogenous consolidation mechanisms (linked to SOs and/or spindles) and whether those mechanisms in turn mediate effective processing of mnemonic information. We devised a novel paradigm in which associative memories (adjective-object and adjective-scene pairs) were selectively cued during a post-learning nap, successfully stabilizing next-day retention relative to non-cued memories. First, we found that, compared to novel control adjectives, memory cues evoked an increase in fast spindles. Critically, during the time window of cue-induced spindle activity, the memory category linked to the verbal cue (object or scene) could be reliably decoded, with the fidelity of this decoding predicting the behavioral consolidation benefits of TMR. These results provide correlative evidence for an information processing role of sleep spindles in service of memory consolidation.
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