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Play it again, Mom: How babies recognize melodies

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Science Translational Medicine  18 Jul 2018:
Vol. 10, Issue 450, eaau4581
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aau4581

Abstract

Playing familiar songs during sleep increased hippocampal activation in toddlers.

Research in nonhuman animal models has shown that the hippocampus is critical for forming new memories early in life, but work in humans has not directly linked hippocampal function with memory. Prabhakar et al. tested whether toddlers would show different hippocampal activity in response to familiar versus novel songs. Twenty-two toddlers were exposed for three sessions to unique lullabies in two different rooms while playing with a specific toy. After the third visit, toddlers’ explicit memory was tested by asking them if they remembered what room and with which toy they heard one of the lullabies. The fourth and final visit was a nighttime functional magnetic resonance imaging in which the toddlers were asleep as they heard the familiar lullaby from the previous sessions, a novel lullaby, or the familiar lullaby played backward via headphones. Toddlers demonstrated increased activation in the hippocampus to the learned song as well as the song in reverse versus the unfamiliar song. Toddlers who explicitly remembered where and in the presence of which toy they heard the lullaby had greater activation in the hippocampus for the lullaby. These findings provide insight into how memory is formed in the typically developing brain during the first years of life. This study lays the foundation for future work in atypical development to better understand aberrant brain trajectories. In addition, longitudinal studies that tease apart how hippocampal function for memory formation relates to later cognitive abilities and how the home environment may impact hippocampal functioning will help to further understand moderating variables. Sleep neuroimaging studies in toddlers is methodically complicated, but, ultimately, studies with larger sample sizes will be able to understand how differences in hippocampal function relate to day-to-day memory function.

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