New understanding of how we remember traumatic events

October 23, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Neuroscientists at The University of Queensland have discovered a new way to explain how emotional events can sometimes lead to disturbing long term memories.

In evolutionary terms, the brain's ability to remember a fear or trauma response has been crucial to our long term survival.

However, in the modern world, when a similar type of fear response is triggered by a traumatic event such as being in combat; being exposed to abuse or being involved a major car accident, we do not want to repeatedly re-experience the episode, in vivid detail, for the rest of our lives.

During studies of the almond-shaped part of the brain called the amygdala – a region associated with processing emotions – Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) scientists have uncovered a cellular mechanism underlying the formation of emotional memories, which occurs in the presence of a well known stress hormone.

In a scientific paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience, QBI's Dr Louise Faber and her colleagues have demonstrated how noradrenaline, the brain's equivalent of adrenaline, affects the amygdala by controlling chemical and electrical pathways in the brain responsible for memory formation.

“This is a new way of understanding how neurons form long term memories in the amygdala,” Dr Faber said.

“Our strongest and most vivid human memories are usually associated with strong emotional events such as those associated with extreme fear, love and rage.”

“For many of us, our deepest memories are mental snapshots taken during times of high emotional impact or involvement,” she said.

“Some aspects of memory formation are incredibly robust – and the mechanism we've discovered opens another door in terms of understanding how these memories are formed.”

Dr Faber said her team's discovery could help other scientists to elucidate new targets, leading to better treatments for conditions such as anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Established with the generous support of the Atlantic Philanthropies in 2003 as part of the Queensland Government's Smart State Initiative, QBI is dedicated to understanding the molecular basis of brain function and applying this knowledge to the development of new therapeutics to treat brain and mental health disorders.

Paper: “Modulation of SK channel trafficking by beta adrenoceptors enhances excitatory synaptic transmission and plasticity in the amygdala,” Journal of Neuroscience, 22 October 2008.

Provided by University of Queensland

Explore further: Team finds training exercise that boosts brain power

Related Stories

Team finds training exercise that boosts brain power

October 17, 2017
One of the two brain-training methods most scientists use in research is significantly better in improving memory and attention, Johns Hopkins University researchers found. It also results in more significant changes in brain ...

Right brain also important for learning a new language

October 17, 2017
Novel language learning activates different neural processes than was previously thought. A Leiden research team has discovered parallel but separate contributions from the hippocampus and Broca's area, the learning centre ...

Mechanism explains how seizures may lead to memory loss

October 16, 2017
Although it's been clear that seizures are linked to memory loss and other cognitive deficits in patients with Alzheimer's disease, how this happens has been puzzling. In a study published in the journal Nature Medicine, ...

Menopause linked to changes in brain energy use

October 13, 2017
Researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine and the University of Arizona Health Sciences have found that women's brains use less energy during the menopause. The reduction in energy use by the brain was found to be similar to ...

New study describes how dopamine tells you it isn't worth the wait

October 16, 2017
How do we know if it was worth the wait in line to get a meal at the new restaurant in town? To do this our brain must be able to signal how good the meal tastes and associate this feeling with the restaurant. This is done ...

Researchers confirm transcranial stimulation effects and determine a key mechanism

October 13, 2017
HRL Laboratories researchers have determined how non-invasive transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) could increase performance of associative learning. The researchers found that when applied to the prefrontal cortex, ...

Recommended for you

Inflammation trains the skin to heal faster

October 18, 2017
Scars may fade, but the skin remembers. New research from The Rockefeller University reveals that wounds or other harmful, inflammation-provoking experiences impart long-lasting memories to stem cells residing in the skin, ...

Large variety of microbial communities found to live along female reproductive tract

October 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A large team of researchers from China (and one each from Norway and Denmark) has found that the female reproductive tract is host to a far richer microbial community than has been thought. In their paper ...

Study of what makes cells resistant to radiation could improve cancer treatments

October 18, 2017
A Johns Hopkins University biologist is part of a research team that has demonstrated a way to size up a cell's resistance to radiation, a step that could eventually help improve cancer treatments.

New approach helps rodents with spinal cord injury breathe on their own

October 17, 2017
One of the most severe consequences of spinal cord injury in the neck is losing the ability to control the diaphragm and breathe on one's own. Now, investigators show for the first time in laboratory models that two different ...

Pair of discoveries illuminate new paths to flu and anthrax treatments

October 17, 2017
Two recent studies led by biologists at the University of California San Diego have set the research groundwork for new avenues to treat influenza and anthrax poisoning.

New method to measure how drugs interact

October 17, 2017
Cancer, HIV and tuberculosis are among the many serious diseases that are frequently treated with combinations of three or more drugs, over months or even years. Developing the most effective therapies for such diseases requires ...

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.