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Why getting better at baseball might require just a little sleep

Why getting better at baseball might require just a little sleep

December 22, 2021 | by Claudia Lopez LloredaPennNeuroKnow

A new study found that activating memories through learning-associated sound cues during sleep improved the performance of a motor task.

Not every experience you have or fact that you encounter turns into a long-lasting memory. Many of these moments slip away, while others become stable, long-lasting memories in your brain. This process of stabilization, called memory consolidation, is influenced by many aspects that impact learning. One such factor is sleep, which is critical for the consolidation of a memory. But not all memories are the same, and scientists still wonder whether sleep could help improve a memory associated with a motor skill. A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that activating a motor memory during sleep could improve performance of that motor skill1.

So how can a motor memory be activated? The technique used in this study, called targeted memory reactivation (TMR), consists of presenting a sensory aspect of a recently learned memory, like a sound or smell, to “activate” a memory while the person sleeps. One analysis found that TMR improved declarative memory, the ability to remember facts and personal experiences. Additionally, they found that TMR during deeper, non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep was more effective than during REM sleep2. Another study found that learning-associated sound cues helped participants solve puzzles that they had left unsolved before sleep3.

But while TMR helped to improve declarative memory and problem solving, whether TMR could also improve motor skills had been a big question in the field. While some studies found that TMR improved a learned motor skill, like learning a finger tapping sequence, others found that activating motor memories had little effect on motor performance. Additionally, most of the motor skills tested relied on well-learned tasks that left little room for improvement, so the researchers in the new study decided to test a more complex task that emphasized action execution. 

To do this, the researchers trained and tested 20 participants in a complex motor task. They had to learn to control specific arm muscles to move a cursor on a computer to a particular target on the screen. With each of the eight different target locations, a unique sound was played — a bell or a dog’s bark for example — while the participants were being trained. After training, the participants learned to reliably flex and contract arm muscles to move the cursor to the target area associated with a specific sound.

Then the participants took a nap. During their approximately 60-minute nap, researchers played the same sounds that participants had learned to associate with certain targets in the task. In this case, they cued, or played, the sounds associated with about half of the targets. When the participants woke up, the researchers tested how well they performed for the targets that had been cued with sound while participants slept, which presumably activated the memory during sleep when the sound was played, versus the targets that had not been cued during sleep.

Participants showed an improved cursor control in the memories that were activated during their nap, with performance times on cued targets being faster than their performance times prior to sleeping and faster than those that had not been cued. On the other hand, movement towards targets that had not been cued were slower than before the participants went to sleep. Researchers also found that participants were able to move the cursor in a more direct and efficient way to the targets that were cued. These results suggest that re-activating motor memories, by presenting the learning-associated sound cue during sleep, strengthens the memories.

However, the improvement could be due to two things: participants could be remembering the task better or they could be executing it better. To pinpoint in what aspect participants were improving in, researchers looked at the time that it took the, to begin moving the cursor when they heard the sound associated with a target. The researchers identified that, for the cued targets, participants took less time moving the cursor, but the time it took for them to start participants was similar. Participants got better at controlling their muscles to move the cursor towards a specific target associated with a unique sound. This means that participants got faster and more accurate at the motor skill because they got better at the execution of the skill and not necessarily because they remembered better.

This new study reflects what other studies looking at memory activation during sleep have found: if a memory is re-activated it can be better consolidated. In this case, the researchers showed that memory activation during sleep can actually improve and enhance the performance of a motor skill learned previously. In fact, re-activation of these motor control memories may be necessary to strengthen memories and consequently the movements and motor skills learned. The authors suggest that this strategy could be used to help with rehabilitation in patients with injuries that impair movement. Activating certain motor memories while a patient sleeps could potentially help them recover and improve their daily lives. But beyond clinical applications, it may mean that getting better at a skill, be it throwing a baseball or driving a car, may just require a little sleep.

Images

Cover image. From Pixabay.

References

  1. Cheng, L. Y., Che, T., Tomic, G., Slutzky, M. W., & Paller, K. A. (2021). Memory reactivation during sleep improves execution of a challenging motor skill. The Journal of Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.0265-21.2021
  2. Hu, X., Cheng, L. Y., Chiu, M. H., & Paller, K. A. (2020). Promoting memory consolidation during sleep: A meta-analysis of targeted memory reactivation. Psychological Bulletin, 146(3), 218–244. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000223
  3. Sanders, K. E., Osburn, S., Paller, K. A., & Beeman, M. (2019). Targeted memory reactivation during sleep improves next-day problem solving. Psychological Science, 30(11), 1616–1624. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797619873344

 

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International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society (IAES), home of the AEWarrior®, is the only Family/Patient-centered organization that assists members from getting a diagnosis through to recovery and the many challenges experienced in their journey. Your donations are greatly appreciated and are the direct result of IAES’ ability to develop the first product in the world to address the needs of patients, Autoimmune Encephalitis Trivia Playing Cards. Every dollar raised allows us to raise awareness and personally help Patients, Families, and Caregivers through their Journey with AE to ensure that the best outcomes can be reached. Your contribution to our mission will help save lives and improve the quality of life for those impacted by AE.   Trivia Playing cards 3 FB 500x419 - Why getting better at baseball might require just a little sleep For this interested in face masks, clothing, mugs, and other merchandise, check out our AE Warrior Store!  This online shop was born out of the desire for the AE patient to express their personal pride in fighting such a traumatic disease and the natural desire to spread awareness. Join our AE family and help us continue our mission to support patients, families and caregivers while they walk this difficult journey.   AE Warrior Store 300x200 - Why getting better at baseball might require just a little sleep

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Ataxia and Autoimmune Encephalitis

Ataxia and Autoimmune Encephalitis

October 27, 2021 | by Vanessa B. Sanchez, PennNeuroKnow

Imagine you are at a playground with your friends playing hopscotch. It is your turn. You jump with both feet, hop on one foot, hop on the other, all just to get to the end. This type of motor control and balance is controlled by a particular brain structure called the cerebellum. The cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”) is traditionally known as the hub for motor coordination, balance, and posture, but recently has been recognized for its role in cognition (attention and language) and emotion regulation (like fear)1

  1. Damage to the cerebellum results in a condition known as Ataxia. Ataxia symptoms vary between each individual, but hallmark symptoms include trouble with coordination, walking, swallowing, speech, and on rare occasions, eye or heart problems2,3,6. Anyone is susceptible to developing ataxia. It can be acquired through alcohol abuse, head trauma, stroke, vitamin deficiency, and/or autoimmunity2. In some cases, ataxia is hereditary; someone can inherit either a dominant gene from one parent (autosomal dominant disorder), or a recessive gene from both parents (autosomal recessive disorder)2,3. A common cause of ataxia and/or problems with balance and gait is due to the progressive loss and degeneration of cerebellar neurons, specifically Purkinje cells. Purkinje cells are one of the largest neurons in the brain and are the cerebellum’s main communicators with the rest of the brain8.Once a patient is diagnosed with ataxia, physicians will try to identify the root cause by performing neurological examinations and laboratory tests5. While the neurological examination is used to determine the extent and severity of symptoms, the laboratory tests can help to ascertain if the ataxia is genetic, infectious, or immune related3. For instance, if a patient develops ataxia through a nutritional or immune-mediated cause, their abnormal vitamin or antibody levels would be detected during the laboratory tests5. A patient’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the bodily fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, can be examined to measure specific antibody levels and provide information about specific types of immune-mediated ataxia3,4.

    The cerebellum is particularly susceptible to damage and autoimmune attacks5. Autoimmune-related ataxias can encompass a spectrum of disorders including autoimmune encephalitis (AE), gluten ataxia, and Hashimoto’s encephalopathy4. This type of ataxia can also be episodic – presenting as sudden and intense episodes of ataxia accompanied by vertigo and dizziness. These episodes are especially prevalent in a type of AE called anti–CASPR2 antibody-associated autoimmune encephalitis5-7.

    Is cerebellar degeneration observed in autoimmune-related ataxias? Not really3. For example, scientists who study anti-NMDA receptor (anti-NMDAR) encephalitis use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce detailed images of the cerebellum and found that 2 out of 15 patients exhibited cerebellar atrophy, which was a surprise because it has never been reported in this disease9. While it is not exactly clear why cerebellar atrophy is occurring in these anti-NMDAR encephalitis patients, one hypothesis posits that NMDAR antibodies act like NDMAR antagonists (blocking and inhibiting an NMDA receptor from turning on)9. NMDA receptors are critical for relaying signals between neurons and for a signal to be passed, the receptor must open. So, if an antibody is acting like an antagonist, the receptor can’t open and the signal won’t be relayed. In other words, if a cerebellar neuron (Purkinje cell) cannot receive or relay a signal to another neuron, then there is improper communication throughout the whole brain, resulting in impaired balance or coordination.

    Above all, ataxia is an extremely rare condition and sometimes manifests with AE. Motor deficits are an early indicator that something is wrong and are typically the first thing doctors use to properly diagnose an autoimmune-related ataxia. Because there is no direct treatment, current methods focus on improving a patient’s balance and gait, in addition to immunotherapy and/or medications that may ease a patient’s symptoms like fatigue or muscle cramps2. The cerebellum remains an enigma and everyday new research is coming to light. With new work, scientists are constantly able to develop new treatment options. For example, Dr. Beverly Davidson, a renowned scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has dedicated over 20 years of her work towards developing genetic therapies for cerebellar ataxias, giving hope to the next generation of ataxia research!

    References:

    1. Reeber, S. L., Otis, T. S., & Sillitoe, R. V. (2013). New roles for the cerebellum in health and disease. Frontiers in systems neuroscience, 7, 83.
    2. What is ataxia? National Ataxia Foundation. (2021, April 26). https://www.ataxia.org/what-is-ataxia/.
    3. Kuo, S. H. (2019). Ataxia. Continuum (Minneapolis, Minn.), 25(4), 1036.
    4. Nanri, K., Yoshikura, N., Kimura, A., Nakayama, S., Otomo, T., Shimohata, T., … & Yamada, J. (2018). Cerebellar Ataxia and Autoantibodies. Brain and nerve= Shinkei kenkyu no shinpo, 70(4), 371-382.
    5. Lim, J. A., Lee, S. T., Moon, J., Jun, J. S., Kim, T. J., Shin, Y. W., … & Lee, S. K. (2019). Development of the clinical assessment scale in autoimmune encephalitis. Annals of neurology, 85(3), 352-358.
    6. Orsucci, D., Raglione, L. M., Mazzoni, M., & Vista, M. (2019). Therapy of episodic ataxias: Case report and review of the literature. Drugs in context, 8.
    7. Joubert, B., Gobert, F., Thomas, L., Saint-Martin, M., Desestret, V., Convers, P., … & Honnorat, J. (2017). Autoimmune episodic ataxia in patients with anti-CASPR2 antibody-associated encephalitis. Neurology-Neuroimmunology Neuroinflammation, 4(4).
    8. Voogd, J. & Glickstein, M. The anatomy of the cerebellum. Trends Neurosci. 21, 370–375 (1998).
    9. Iizuka, T., Kaneko, J., Tominaga, N., Someko, H., Nakamura, M., Ishima, D., … & Nishiyama, K. (2016). Association of progressive cerebellar atrophy with long-term outcome in patients with anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor encephalitis. JAMA neurology, 73(6), 706-713.

    To learn more about ataxia, read this fact-sheet provided by the National Ataxia Foundation.

 

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Become an Advocate by sharing your story. It may result in accurate diagnosis for someone suffering right now who is yet to be correctly identified. Submit your story with two photos to IAES@autoimmune-encephalitis.org  

 

 

International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society (IAES), home of the AEWarrior®, is the only Family/Patient-centered organization that assists members from getting a diagnosis through to recovery and the many challenges experienced in their journey. Your donations are greatly appreciated and are the direct result of IAES’ ability to develop the first product in the world to address the needs of patients, Autoimmune Encephalitis Trivia Playing Cards. Every dollar raised allows us to raise awareness and personally help Patients, Families, and Caregivers through their Journey with AE to ensure that the best outcomes can be reached. Your contribution to our mission will help save lives and improve the quality of life for those impacted by AE.   Trivia Playing cards 3 FB 500x419 - Ataxia and Autoimmune Encephalitis For this interested in face masks, clothing, mugs, and other merchandise, check out our AE Warrior Store!  This online shop was born out of the desire for the AE patient to express their personal pride in fighting such a traumatic disease and the natural desire to spread awareness. Join our AE family and help us continue our mission to support patients, families and caregivers while they walk this difficult journey.   AE Warrior Store 300x200 - Ataxia and Autoimmune Encephalitis

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Our website is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice. Nothing contained on our website is intended to be used as medical advice. No content is intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice. Although THE INTERNATIONAL AUTOIMMUNE ENCEPHALITIS SOCIETY  provides a great deal of information about AUTOIMMUNE ENCEPHALITIS, all content is provided for informational purposes only. The International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society  cannot provide medical advice.


International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society is a charitable non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2016 by Tabitha Andrews Orth, Gene Desotell and Anji Hogan-Fesler. Tax ID# 81-3752344. Donations raised directly supports research, patients, families and caregivers impacted by autoimmune encephalitis and to educating healthcare communities around the world. Financial statement will be made available upon request.

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