Auditory stimulation in-phase with slow oscillations to enhance overnight memory consolidation in patients with schizophrenia?

Sleep-dependent memory consolidation is disturbed in patients with schizophrenia, who furthermore show reductions in sleep spindles and probably also in delta power during sleep. The memory dysfunction in these patients is one of the strongest markers for worse long-term functional outcome. However, therapeutic interventions to normalise memory functions, e.g., with medication, still do not exist. Against this backdrop, we investigated to what extent a non-invasive approach enhancing sleep with real-time auditory stimulation in-phase with slow oscillations might affect overnight memory consolidation in patients with schizophrenia. To this end, we examined 18 patients with stably medicated schizophrenia in a double-blinded sham-controlled design. Memory performance was assessed by a verbal (word list) and a non-verbal (complex figure) declarative memory task. In comparison to a sham condition without auditory stimuli, we found that in patients with schizophrenia, auditory stimulation evokes an electrophysiological response similar to that in healthy participants leading to an increase in slow wave and temporally coupled sleep spindle activity during stimulation. Despite this finding, patients did not show any beneficial effect on the overnight change in memory performance by stimulation. Although the stimulation in our study did not improve the patient's memory, the electrophysiological response gives hope that auditory stimulation could enable us to provide better treatment for sleep-related detriments in these patients in the future.


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