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The Forgetting Pill

Memories are not exact recordings of our experiences. Science finds that the act of remembering something changes that memory. This finding has led to the development of drugs that, when administered in conjunction with the act of recalling a specific memory, can modify or even erase that memory! The applications of this research could mean a cure for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PKMzeta is an enzyme that is produced around brain synapses when memories are recalled. An enzyme inhibitor called zeta-interacting protein, or ZIP, reduces the production of PKMzeta. Neuroscientists Karim Nader and Joseph LeDoux explain how this inhibitor can erase memories.

Nader, LeDoux, and a neuroscientist named Jacek Debiec taught rats elaborate sequences of association, so that a series of sounds predicted the arrival of a painful shock to the foot. Nader calls this a “chain of memories”—the sounds lead to fear, and the animals freeze up. “We wanted to know if making you remember that painful event would also lead to the disruption of related memories,” Nader says. “Or could we alter just that one association?” The answer was clear. By injecting a protein synthesis inhibitor before the rats were exposed to only one of the sounds—and therefore before they underwent memory reconsolidation—the rats could be “trained” to forget the fear associated with that particular tone. “Only the first link was gone,” Nader says. The other associations remained perfectly intact. This is a profound result. While scientists have long wondered how to target specific memories in the brain, it turns out to be remarkably easy: All you have to do is ask people to remember them.

In addition to PTSD, erasing certain memories could aid therapies for chronic pain, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and drug addiction. But is it right to erase memories? Medical ethicists are divided. Some say that the memory of pain is educational, and it’s wrong to mess with what makes us who we are. Others are excited about the possibility of helping those who suffer. And the rest of us wonder what happens when this technology falls into the wrong hands. Read the rest on this fascinating subject at Wired. Link -via Metafilter

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February 19th, 2012

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Stranger to the World

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