Is the failure to detect stimulus deviance during sleep due to a rapid fading of sensory memory or a degradation of stimulus encoding?


Merav Sabri, Department of Neurology, Medical College of Wisconsin, MEB 4550, 8701 Watertown Plank Road, Milwaukee, WI 53226-3548, USA. Tel.: +1-414-456-4482; fax: +1-414-456-6562; e-mail:


The mismatch negativity (MMN) is thought to reflect the outcome of a system responsible for the detection of change in an otherwise repetitive, homogenous acoustic environment. This process depends on the storage and maintenance of a sensory representation of the frequently presented stimulus to which the deviant stimulus is compared. Few studies have been able to record the MMN in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. This pattern of results might be explained by either a rapid fading of sensory memory or an inhibition of stimulus input prior to entry into the cortical MMN generator site. The present study used a very rapid rate of presentation in an attempt to capture mismatch-related negativity prior to the fading of sensory memory. Auditory event-related potentials were recorded from 12 subjects during a single sleep period. A 1000 Hz standard stimulus was presented every 150 ms. At random, on 6.6% of the trials, the standard was changed to either a large 2000 Hz or a small 1100 Hz deviant. In wakefulness, the large deviant elicited an extended negativity that was reduced in amplitude following the presentation of the small deviant. This negativity was also apparent during REM sleep following the presentation of the large deviant. These deviant-related negativities (DRNs) were probably a composite of N1 and MMN activity. During NREM sleep (stage 2 and slow-wave sleep), only the large deviant continued to elicit a DRN. However this DRN might be overlapped by the initial activity of a component that is unique to sleep, the N350. There was little evidence of the DRN or the MMN during sleep following the presentation of the small deviant. A rapid rate of presentation, therefore, does not preserve the MMN following small deviance within sleep. It is possible that inhibition of sensory input occurs before entry into the MMN generating system in the temporal cortex.