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Memories Successfully Erased In Mice

October 24, 2008

Scientists have discovered a way to erase specific memories in mice while leaving others intact and not damaging the brain.

Through manipulation of certain levels of an important protein in the brain, certain memories can be selectively deleted, according to a report published in the journal Neuron.

“While memories are great teachers and obviously crucial for survival and adaptation, selectively removing incapacitating memories, such as traumatic war memories or an unwanted fear, could help many people live better lives,” says Dr. Joe Tsien, brain scientist and co-director of the Brain & Behavior Discovery Institute at the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine.

However, Tsien questioned the wisdom of wiping out a person’s memories.

“All memories, including the painful emotional memories, have their purposes. We learn great lessons from those memories or experiences so we can avoid making the same kinds of mistakes again, and help us to adapt down the road,” Tsien said.

Researchers focused on a protein called alpha-CaMKII involved in learning and memory. The scientists manipulated alpha-CaMKII activity in the brains of genetically modified mice to influence the retrieval of short-term and long-term memories.

Memory has four distinct stages: learning, consolidation, storage and recall. In the past, it has been hard to dissect the molecular mechanisms of these stages because researchers lacked techniques to manipulate proteins quickly. Previous technology would take several days to switch off a protein, which is the product of a gene.

“The human brain is so complex and dramatically different from the mouse brain. That’s why I say I don’t think it’s possible you can do the same thing in humans,” Tsien said.

“However, if that happens in my lifetime, I wouldn’t be surprised either,” Tsien added.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”-a film released in 2004- explored the idea of selectively erasing memories. Two former lovers undergo procedures to wipe out the memory of one another after their relationship falls apart.

“If one wants to get rid of a bad relationship with another person, and is hoping to have a pill to erase that person or relationship, it’s not the solution,” Tsien said.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging, and the Georgia Research Alliance.

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