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Bridging Sleep and Memory
Bridging Sleep and Memory

Annie Souza, Ph.D. Photography by Robin Taber

Our permanent, long-term memories take time and rest to make. Annie Souza, Ph.D., studies how this happens within the brain.

Souza, a postdoctoral fellow working in the Thalamus Laboratory led by Carmen Varela, Ph.D., assistant professor in FAU Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, studies how sleep transforms learned experiences into long-term memory.

During sleep, neurons in the brain produce repeated electrical activity, called oscillations, or brainwaves. Different waves help different areas of the brain — like the cortex, thalamus and hippocampus — communicate and transfer information to form memories.

In the lab, Souza detects and targets oscillations during sleep and applies an auditory stimulus, which can potentially boost the already ongoing waves. “By targeting and potentially amplifying, so to speak, those naturally occurring oscillations we can possibly improve the coordination of brain areas and improve memory consolidation,” she said.

From an early age, Souza was an enthusiast of all sorts of life forms, she said. So, in her first year of college she decided to study biology. “The inaugural lecture of the year I got accepted at the university happened to be given by a neuroscientist. I was amazed and decided that this was the path I was going to,” she said.

As an undergraduate, she assisted with research and then continued to earn a master’s degree, and then a doctorate degree from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. For her graduate work, she investigated psychedelics and how it relates to the sleep-wake cycle; and which proteins are active during sleep after learning.

Ultimately, Souza said she hopes her work helps lead to the development of non-invasive methods to improve memory in disorders like schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

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