Brain Activation Time-Locked to Sleep Spindles Associated With Human Cognitive Abilities

Front Neurosci. 2019 Feb 6;13:46. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00046. eCollection 2019.


Simultaneous electroencephalography and functional magnetic resonance imaging (EEG-fMRI) studies have revealed brain activations time-locked to spindles. Yet, the functional significance of these spindle-related brain activations is not understood. EEG studies have shown that inter-individual differences in the electrophysiological characteristics of spindles (e.g., density, amplitude, duration) are highly correlated with "Reasoning" abilities (i.e., "fluid intelligence"; problem solving skills, the ability to employ logic, identify complex patterns), but not short-term memory (STM) or verbal abilities. Spindle-dependent reactivation of brain areas recruited during new learning suggests night-to-night variations reflect offline memory processing. However, the functional significance of stable, trait-like inter-individual differences in brain activations recruited during spindle events is unknown. Using EEG-fMRI sleep recordings, we found that a subset of brain activations time-locked to spindles were specifically related to Reasoning abilities but were unrelated to STM or verbal abilities. Thus, suggesting that individuals with higher fluid intelligence have greater activation of brain regions recruited during spontaneous spindle events. This may serve as a first step to further understand the function of sleep spindles and the brain activity which supports the capacity for Reasoning.

Keywords: NREM; cognitive abilities; simultaneous EEG–fMRI; sleep; spindles.