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Sleep effects on slow-brain-potential reflections of associative learning
Previous research has indicated that information acquired before sleep gets consolidated during sleep. This process of consolidation might be reflected after sleep in changed extent and topography of cortical activation during retrieval of information. Here, we designed an experiment to measure those changes by means of slow event-related EEG potentials (SPs). Retrieval of newly learnt verbal or spatial associations was tested both immediately after learning and two days later. In the night directly following immediate recall, participants either slept or stayed awake. In line with previous studies, SPs measured during retrieval from memory had parietal or left-frontal foci depending on whether the retrieved associations were spatial or verbal. However, contrary to our expectations, sleep-related consolidation did not further accentuate these content-specific topographic profiles. Rather, sleep modified SPs independently of the spatial or verbal type of learned association: SPs were reduced more after sleep than after waking specifically for those stimulus configurations that had been presented in the same combination at retrieval before sleep. The association-independent stimulus-specific effect might generally form a major component of sleep-related effects on memory.