(ANTIMEDIA) — It may soon be possible to erase traumatic events from the brain, new research suggests. Scientists have discovered that the proteins used for storing memories in nerves are entirely distinct — meaning they can be pharmaceutically targeted and eliminated.
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The research, conducted by scientists at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and McGill University, focused on why incidental memories associated with trauma can trigger anxiety on their own. The team found that the process the brain uses for storing long-term memory is separate from the one it uses to encode incidental memory.
“The example I like to give is, if you are walking in a high-crime area and you take a shortcut through a dark alley and get mugged, and then you happen to see a mailbox nearby, you might get really nervous when you want to mail something later on,” neuroscientist Samuel Schacher of CUMC said while explaining the research.
Long-term memories are formed by neurons reinforcing the synapses that link them together. But the synaptic tagging-and-capture hypothesis states that weak stimuli — such as the mailbox in Schacher’s example — can still cause anxiety if they are associated with a traumatic event.
The research found that the strength of synaptic connections is the result of stimulation by two distinct versions of a protein called a kinase. By blocking kinases associated with a bad memory — even if it’s something innocuous, like the mailbox — scientists say we could literally erase trauma from the brain with a pill.
While the reality of that pill is still far down the road, Jiangyuan Hu, one of the researchers from CUMC, says his team’s findings have opened a very big door:
“Memory erasure has the potential to alleviate PTSD and anxiety disorders by removing the non-associative memory that causes the maladaptive physiological response.”