October 25, 2012


Everyone feels refreshed after a good night's sleep, but sleep does more than just rejuvenate, it can also consolidate memories. ‘The rapid eye movement form of sleep and slow wave sleep are involved in cognitive forms of memory such as learning motor skills and consciously accessible memory’, explains Randolf Mezel from the Freie Universtät Berlin, Germany. According to Menzel, the concept that something during sleep reactivates a memory for consolidation is a basic theory in sleep research. However, the human brain is far too complex to begin dissecting the intricate neurocircuits that underpin our memories, which is why Menzel has spent the last four decades working with honey bees: they are easy to train, well motivated and it is possible to identify the miniaturised circuits that control specific behaviours in their tiny brains. Intrigued by the role of sleep in memory consolidation and knowing that a bee is sleeping well when its antennae are relaxed and collapsed down, Menzel decided to focus on the role of sleep in one key memory characteristic: relearning (p. 3981). The challenge that Menzel set the bees was to learn a new route home after being displaced from a familiar path.

journal reference (summary): Experimental Biology >>