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Replay of conditioned stimuli during late REM and stage N2 sleep influences affective tone rather than emotional memory strength.

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2015
Author Rihm Julia S, Rasch Björn,
Project A brain state-dependent role of reactivation for memory formation
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Neurobiology of learning and memory
Volume (Issue) 122
Page(s) 142 - 51
Title of proceedings Neurobiology of learning and memory
DOI 10.1016/j.nlm.2015.04.008


Emotional memories are reprocessed during sleep, and it is widely assumed that this reprocessing occurs mainly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In support for this notion, vivid emotional dreams occur mainly during REM sleep, and several studies have reported emotional memory enhancement to be associated with REM sleep or REM sleep-related parameters. However, it is still unknown whether reactivation of emotional memories during REM sleep strengthens emotional memories. Here, we tested whether re-presentation of emotionally learned stimuli during REM sleep enhances emotional memory. In a split-night design, participants underwent Pavlovian conditioning after the first half of the night. Neutral sounds served as conditioned stimuli (CS) and were either paired with a negative odor (CS+) or an odorless vehicle (CS-). During sound replay in subsequent late REM or N2 sleep, half of the CS+ and half of the CS- were presented again. In contrast to our hypothesis, replay during sleep did not affect emotional memory as measured by the differentiation between CS+ and CS- in expectancy, arousal and valence ratings. However, replay unspecifically decreased subjective arousal ratings of both emotional and neutral sounds and increased positive valence ratings also for both CS+ and CS- sounds, respectively. These effects were slightly more pronounced for replay during REM sleep. Our results suggest that re-exposure to previously conditioned stimuli during late sleep does not affect emotional memory strength, but rather influences the affective tone of both emotional and neutral memories.