Forget about it: Inducible and selective erasure of memories in mice

October 22, 2008

Targeted memory erasure is no longer limited to the realm of science fiction. A new study describes a method through which a selected set of memories can be rapidly and specifically erased from the mouse brain in a controlled and inducible manner. The research, published by Cell Press in the October 23 issue of the journal Neuron, may eventually lead to development of strategies amenable to the human brain that would permit selective erasure of traumatic memories or unwanted fear while leaving other memories intact.

Memory is generally separated into four different stages: acquisition, consolidation, storage, and retrieval. Previous research has identified specific molecules and events that appear to play a role in the various phases of the memory process. One such "memory molecule," calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII), is an enzyme that has been linked to multiple aspects of learning and memory.

A research team led by Dr. Joe Z. Tsien, from the Brain and Behavior Discovery Institute at the Medical College of Georgia, developed a method for rapidly manipulating CaMKII activity in the brains of transgenic mice. "We recently developed a chemical genetic strategy that combines the molecular specificity of genetics with the high time-resolution of pharmacological inhibition. Using this technique, we examined the manipulation of transgenic ?CaMKII activity on the retrieval of short-term and long-term fear memories and novel object recognition memory," explains Dr. Tsien, who is also renowned for his 1999 creation of Doogie, the smart transgenic mouse with enhanced learning and memory abilities.

Dr. Tsien and colleagues found that transient overexpression of ?CaMKII at the time of recall impaired retrieval of newly formed 1 hr novel object recognition memory and fear memories, as well as 1-month-old fear memories. The researchers went on to show that recall deficits linked to excessive ?CaMKII activity were not caused by a blockade of the recall process but instead seemed to be due to rapid erasure of the stored memories. Further, the erased memories were limited to those being retrieved while others remained intact.

The results demonstrate a successful genetic method for rapidly and specifically erasing specific memories, such as new and old fear memories, in a controlled and inducible manner without doing harm to the brain cells. "Given the fact that so many war veterans often suffer from reoccurring traumatic memory replays after returning home, our report of selective erasure of fear memories in an inducible and rapid way suggests the existence of molecular paradigm(s) under which traumatic memories can be erased or degraded while preserving other memories in the brain," says Dr. Tsien. However, he goes on to caution, "No one should expect to have a pill do the same in humans any time soon, we are barely at the foot of a very tall mountain."

Source: Cell Press

Explore further: How a seahorse-shaped brain structure may help us recognize others

Related Stories

How a seahorse-shaped brain structure may help us recognize others

December 8, 2017
How do we recognize others? How do we know friend from foe, threat from reward? How does the brain compute the multitude of cues telling us that Susan is not Erica even though they look alike? The complexity of social interactions—human ...

Who's in control when you're giving birth?

December 5, 2017
Kimberly Turbin wasn't expecting childbirth to be a pleasant experience, but she wasn't expecting it to be a nightmare either.

Research proves learning is a lifelong process

December 4, 2017
Change, often rapid and disorienting, is today's norm. Even things our grandparents took for granted – manual typewriters, telegrams, smelling salts, corsets – have disappeared into antique shops and museums. We change ...

Deadly combination in neurodegenerative diseases revealed

November 13, 2017
Neurodegenerative diseases are incurable and debilitating conditions that result in progressive degeneration and death of nerve cells, which leads to problems with movement or mental functioning. Examples include Alzheimer's, ...

MRI uncovers brain abnormalities in people with depression and anxiety

November 20, 2017
Researchers using MRI have discovered a common pattern of structural abnormalities in the brains of people with depression and social anxiety, according to a study presented being next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological ...

Health care fallout: Fate of 8M low-income children in limbo

December 1, 2017
TC Bell knows what life is like without health insurance after growing up with a mother who cobbled together care from a public health clinic, emergency room visits and off-the-books visits to a doctor they knew.

Recommended for you

Gene therapy improves immunity in babies with 'bubble boy' disease

December 9, 2017
Early evidence suggests that gene therapy developed at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital will lead to broad protection for infants with the devastating immune disorder X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency disorder. ...

In lab research, scientists slow progression of a fatal form of muscular dystrophy

December 8, 2017
In a paper published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, Saint Louis University (SLU) researchers report that a new drug reduces fibrosis (scarring) and prevents loss of muscle function in an animal model of Duchenne ...

Double-blind study shows HIV vaccine not effective in viral suppression

December 7, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A large team of researchers from the U.S. and Canada has conducted a randomized double-blind study of the effectiveness of an HIV vaccine and has found it to be ineffective in suppressing the virus. In ...

Time matters: Does our biological clock keep cancer at bay?

December 7, 2017
Our body has an internal biological or "circadian" clock, which cycles daily and is synchronized with solar time. New research done in mice suggests that it can help suppress cancer. The study, publishing 7 December in the ...

Novel harvesting method rapidly produces superior stem cells for transplantation

December 7, 2017
A new method of harvesting stem cells for bone marrow transplantation - developed by a team of investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute - appears to accomplish ...

Inhibiting TOR boosts regenerative potential of adult tissues

December 7, 2017
Adult stem cells replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues throughout our lifetime. We lose many of those stem cells, along with their regenerative capacity, as we age. Working in flies and mice, researchers at ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.