Sleep May Strengthen Long-Term Immunity Memories

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SleepIt is a well-established fact that deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, is responsible for turning recent memories into long-term, stable memories.

In a new opinion article published in the journal Trends in Neurosciences researchers suggest that deep sleep may also strengthen immunological memories of formerly encountered pathogens.

Researchers from the University of Tubingen in Germany explained that without memory, there would be inadequate innate response patterns to enable the survival of an organism in a transforming environment. The research team believes this is true for the body and the mind.

In psychological memory formation, the central nervous system will respond to psychological events. As a result, long-form memory contains physical and social features. The researchers say that there is a similar mechanism with the immune system that forms long-term memories and stores antigens in the B-cell and T-cell systems. This process creates a more effective response when the antigen is re-encountered. T and B cells defend against disease, and antigens are proteins found on the pathogens’ surface.

The immune system remembers encounters with a virus or bacteria by collecting fragments from the bugs or microbes to form the memory T cells. The memory T cells will abstract “gist information” about the pathogens. T cells are thought to store information when the smallest fragments provoke a response. Gist formation will allow the memory T cells to detect similar new pathogens to the previously encountered viruses or bacteria.

Human studies have found that long-term memory T cell increases are linked with deep sleep on nights after being vaccinated. Deep sleep and vaccinations support the claim that deep sleep can lead to long-term memory formation of generalized and abstract information, and as a result, there are adaptive immunological and behavioral responses. This means that depriving the body of sleep can impair the body.

“In order to design effective vaccines against HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, which are based on immunological memory, the correct memory model must be available,” commented senior author Jan Born. “It is our hope that by comparing the concepts of neuronal and immunological memory, a model of immunological memory can be developed which integrates the available experimental data and serves as a helpful basis for vaccine development.”

Sources for Today’s Article:
Westermann, J., et al., “System Consolidation During Sleep–A Common Principle Underlying Psychological and Immunological Memory Formation,” Trends in Neurosciences 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2015.07.007.
“Sleep may strengthen long-term memories in the immune system,” ScienceDaily web site, September 29, 2015;