Semantic priming effect during REM-sleep inertia in patients with narcolepsy

Michela Mazzetti, Claudio Campi, Katia Mattarozzi, Giuseppe Plazzi, Giovanni Tuozzi, Stefano Vandi, Luca Vignatelli, Carlo Cipolli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Patients with narcolepsy-cataplexy (NC) present excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), cataplexy and an altered architecture of nocturnal sleep, with frequent episodes of REM-sleep at sleep onset (SOREM-sleep). This altered organization of nocturnal sleep may be accompanied by some differences in the functioning of the cognitive processes involved in the access, organization and consolidation of information during sleep. This study attempts to ascertain whether the activation of semantic memory during REM-sleep, as measured using a technique of semantic priming (namely, the facilitation of the activation of strongly-related rather than weakly-related and, overall, unrelated pairs of prime-target words) is different in NC patients compared to normal subjects. A lexical decision task (LDT) was carried out twice in wakefulness (at 10 a.m. and after a 24 h interval) and twice in the period of sleep inertia following awakening from SOREM and 4th-cycle REM-sleep on 12 NC patients and from 1st- and 4th-cycle REM-sleep on 12 matched controls. Reaction time (RT) to target words, taken as a measure of the semantic priming effect, proved to be longer (a) in NC patients than in control subjects; (b) in the period of REM-sleep inertia than in wakefulness; (c) in the first rather than the second session; and (d) for unrelated compared to weakly-related and, overall, strongly-related prime-target pairs. RT in post-REM-sleep sessions was less impaired, compared to waking sessions, and less dependent on the associative strength of prime-target pairs in NC patients than in normal subjects. Finally, RT of NC patients, although longer than that of normal subjects in waking sessions, significantly improved in the second session, as a consequence of either the amount of exercise or the consolidation advantage provided by REM-sleep for the procedural components of the task. The whole picture suggests a greater effectiveness of the activation of semantic memory during (SO)REM-sleep in NC patients rather than in normal subjects, and overall for the organization of new and unexpected relationships (such as those between unrelated pairs) between items of information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-278
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Research Bulletin
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 11 2006


  • Associative relationships
  • Lexical decision task
  • Narcolepsy
  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep
  • Semantic memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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