Science fiction takes another step closer to reality today as scientists discover a way to delete traumatic memories from the brains of lab animals. Your fear of Kotaku's regular science posts may soon be a thing of the past!
As human understanding of how the brain works expands, so does the number of delightful little things scientists can do to our brains. For instance, Richard L. Huganir, PhD, professor and director of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his team believe they have discovered a way to erase bad memories.
While behavioural training in animals has made strides in lessening the impact of traumatic memories on lab animals, repression is simply that, and it's generally only a matter of time before the bad memories resurface.
Huganir and his team instead focused on the chemical process that takes place in the brain's amygdala. The amygdala is the area of the brain associated with the memory of emotional response, and fear is certainly an emotional response.
Using laboratory mice conditioned to react fearfully to a loud tone, the researchers determined that certain cells in the amygdala conducted more electricity immediately after the tone sounded.
The animal lover in me finds it hard to imagine mice that are so relaxed being hooked up to scientific monitoring equipment that it takes a loud tone to terrify them. We'll just hand him something fluffy to play with and continue on with the post.
The team dug in deeper, studying the proteins present in these cells before and after the tone sounded, discovering increases in calcium-permeable AMPARs after the mice were terrified, which stayed in the system for 48 hours.
Because these particular proteins are uniquely unstable and can be removed from nerve cells, the scientists proposed that they might permanently remove fear by combining behaviour therapy and protein removal and provide a window of opportunity for treatment. "The idea was to remove these proteins and weaken the connections in the brain created by the trauma, thereby erasing the memory itself," says Huganir.
So remove the AMPARs, and remove the fear. There's a little more to it than that, but the researchers believe that with the help of some protein-controlling medication, they could do away with a traumatic memory forever.
"This may sound like science fiction, the ability to selectively erase memories," says Huganir. "But this may one day be applicable for the treatment of debilitating fearful memories in people, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome associated with war, rape or other traumatic events."
Wonderful! Science can just stop right there now, and not move on to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind territory, and everything will be peachy.
Researchers discover how to erase memory [Physorg.com]