UC Riverside psychologist Sara C. Mednick has been awarded nearly $2.7 million in federal grants to continue researching the neural mechanisms of learning and memory, which has implications for improving sleep and memory for aging adults and the health of college students who pop so-called “smart drugs.”
Mednick previously led a team whose groundbreaking research confirmed the mechanism that enables the brain to consolidate memory and found that Ambien, a commonly prescribed sleep aid, enhances the process.
The National Institute on Aging, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense-Office of Naval Research have awarded Mednick grants to support research into sleep processes that are important for learning and memory, and how those processes might be manipulated to improve both.
Supported by a five-year, $1.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health-National Institute on Aging, Mednick is expanding on research published last year which demonstrated for the first time the critical role that sleep spindles play in consolidating memory in the hippocampus region of the brain. Her team also showed that pharmaceuticals could significantly improve that process, far more than sleep alone. Research like this is an example of Catalyst for Innovation in Riverside and also has amazing health implications.
Sleep spindles are bursts of brain activity that last for a second or less during a specific stage of sleep. The hippocampus, part of the cerebral cortex, is important in the consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory, and spatial navigation. The hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.
The new study, which began in fall 2013, will investigate doses of Ambien needed to boost sleep spindles and whether declarative memory – the ability to recall facts and knowledge – improves as well. The next study will test the same question in older adults.
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