"While it has been known for a long time that sleep supports long-term memory formation in the psychological domain, the idea that long-term memory formation is a function of sleep effective in all organismic systems is in our view entirely new," said Jan Born of the University of Tuebingen in Germany.

The immune system 'remembers' an encounter with a bacteria or virus by collecting fragments from the bug to create memory T cells, which last for months or years and help the body recognize a previous infection and quickly respond.

Studies in humans have shown that long-term increases in memory T cells are associated with deep slow-wave sleep on the nights after vaccination.

The findings support the view that slow-wave sleep contributes to the formation of long-term memories of abstract, generalized information, which leads to adaptive behavioral and immunological responses.

Born said that future research should examine what information is selected during sleep for storage in long-term memory, and how this selection is achieved.

"In order to design effective vaccines against HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, which are based on immunological memory, the correct memory model must be available," he said.


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