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Scientists find way to edit memories

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Author Topic: Scientists find way to edit memories  (Read 518 times)
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« on: December 10, 2009, 12:30:35 pm »

Scientists find way to edit memories

US researchers have found a drug-free way to block fearful memories, opening up the possibility of new treatment approaches for problems such as post traumatic stress disorder.

The findings in people build on studies in rats that showed that reactivating a memory - by showing people objects that stimulate the fearful memory - opens up a specific time window in which the memory can be edited before it is stored again.

"Before memories are stored, there is a period where they are susceptible to being disrupted," Elizabeth Phelps of New York University said.

Her study was published in the journal Nature.

Earlier studies have shown that drugs could be used to block fearful memories, but the results did not last long.

Ms Phelps and colleagues based their studies on findings in rats that showed that old memories could be changed or reconsolidated, but only during a specific window time after the rat is reminded of the fearful memory.

That window of susceptibility was typically between 10 minutes after re-exposure to the object to six hours later, when the memory was once again stored in the brain.

The researchers applied these findings to people in a lab setting.

First, they created a fearful memory by showing the volunteers a blue square and delivering a mild shock.

Once they had created the fear memory, they simply showed a blue square, which reminded them of the fear memory.

The team waited 10 minutes and then started a training period where the volunteers were repeatedly exposed to the blue square without a shock.

Ms Phelps said delaying the exposure training so that it fell within a period during which the memory was susceptible to being edited made a lasting difference in the ability to block the fear memory.

A second group that was exposed to the blue square without the 10-minute waiting period continued to show fear when exposed to the blue square.

When they brought people back a year later, the group that got the training showed no fear response - tracked by changes in the skin - when exposed to the blue square, while other volunteers continued to have a fear response.

Ms Phelps said the important aspect of the study was the time window.

"What we think is happening is because we did it at the right time, you are restoring the memory as safe as opposed to just creating a new memory that competes with the old memory," Ms Phelps said.

She said the findings are the first of their type in humans, and she cautioned that the findings could not be immediately applied to people with severe anxiety problems, such as post traumatic stress disorder.

"We did a blue square with a mild shock," she said. "Normal fear memories are way more complex than that."

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