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Tuesday 19th June 2018

Painful memories can be erased

2nd November 2010

A new technique pioneered by researchers in the US can selectively delete painful memories from the brain.


The researchers say they have found a way of permanently such memories, which could lead to drugs for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The technique relies on removing a specific stress-related protein from the brain, which is generated just after a traumatic event.

In the long term, the brain seems to use such proteins in creating memories of what happens.

The scientists said that the research would be useful to people who could not live normal lives due to persistent feelings of fear.

Lead researcher Richard Huganir, of Johns Hopkins University in the USA, said that when a traumatic event occurred it created a fearful memory that could last a lifetime and have a debilitating effect on a person’s life.

He said that his team's finding described the molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in creating memories of trauma, raising the possibility of manipulating those mechanisms with drugs.

If successful in humans, the researchers hope the technique could be used in conjunction with behavioural therapy.

People who have behavioural therapy can lessen the depth of their recall of trauma, but cannot completely forget what has happened to them.

For the study, the researchers focused on the amygdala, one of the parts of the brain involved in fear conditioning.

Attempting to generate an anxious reaction, they first exposed mice to a very loud, sudden sound.

Examining the brains of the mice after the event, the researchers found elevated levels in AMPA receptors (AMPARs), a type of protein receptor.

The calcium-permeable AMPARs produced by the trauma reaction are uniquely unstable, and can be removed.

The researchers found that modifying another protein in the brains of the mice caused the AMPARs to cease existing.

Huganir said he and his colleagues had conjectured that removing those proteins would weaken the trauma-related connections in the brain and perhaps even erase the traumatic memory itself.

He said that drugs designed to act on the proteins he studied could one day be used to remove debilitating fearful memories, as in post-traumatic stress syndrome.

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