Scientists erase fear from the brain

September 20, 2012

Newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain. This is shown by researchers from Uppsala University in a new study now being published by the academic journal Science. The findings may represent a breakthrough in research on memory and fear.

Thomas Ågren, a at the Department of Psychology under the supervision of Professors Mats Fredrikson and Tomas Furmark, has shown, that it is possible to erase newly formed from the .

When a person learns something, a lasting long-term memory is created with the aid of a process of consolidation, which is based on the formation of proteins. When we remember something, the memory becomes unstable for a while and is then restabilized by another consolidation process. In other words, it can be said that we are not remembering what originally happened, but rather what we remembered the last time we thought about what happened. By disrupting the reconsolidation process that follows upon remembering, we can affect the content of memory.

In the study the researchers showed subjects a neutral picture and simultaneously administered an . In this way the picture came to elicit fear in the subjects which meant a had been formed. In order to activate this fear memory, the picture was then shown without any accompanying shock. For one experimental group the reconsolidation process was disrupted with the aid of repeated presentations of the picture. For a , the reconsolidation process was allowed to complete before the subjects were shown the same repeated presentations of the picture.

In that the experimental group was not allowed to reconsolidate the fear memory, the fear they previously associated with the picture dissipated. In other words, by disrupting the reconsolidation process, the memory was rendered neutral and no longer incited fear. At the same time, using a MR-scanner, the researchers were able to show that the traces of that memory also disappeared from the part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories, the nuclear group of amygdala in the temporal lobe.

"These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and . Ultimately the new findings may lead to improved treatment methods for the millions of people in the world who suffer from anxiety issues like phobias, post-traumatic stress, and panic attacks," says Thomas Ågren.

Explore further: Regulating the formation of fear extinction memory

More information: Thomas Ågren et al. (2012) Disruption of reconsolidation erases a fear memory trace in the human amygdala, Science, Sept 21, 2012.

Related Stories

Regulating the formation of fear extinction memory

August 15, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Neuroscientists at UQ's Queensland Brain Institute have discovered a previously unrecognized layer of gene regulation associated with fear extinction.

Study offers new insight for preventing fear relapse after trauma

November 29, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- In a new study, University of Michigan researchers identified brain circuits in rats that are responsible for the return of fear after it has been suppressed behaviorally.

Recommended for you

Our memory shifts into high gear when we think about raising our children, new study shows

December 15, 2017
Human memory has evolved so people better recall events encountered while they are thinking about raising their offspring, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New ...

Offbeat brain rhythms during sleep make older adults forget

December 15, 2017
Like swinging a tennis racket during a ball toss to serve an ace, slow and speedy brainwaves during deep sleep must sync up at exactly the right moment to hit the save button on new memories, according to new UC Berkeley ...

Study finds graspable objects grab attention more than images of objects do

December 15, 2017
Does having the potential to act upon an object have a unique influence on behavior and brain responses to the object? That is the question Jacqueline Snow, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, ...

Little understood cell helps mice see color

December 14, 2017
Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have discovered that color vision in mice is far more complex than originally thought, opening the door to experiments that could potentially lead to new treatments ...

Scientists chart how brain signals connect to neurons

December 14, 2017
Scientists at Johns Hopkins have used supercomputers to create an atomic scale map that tracks how the signaling chemical glutamate binds to a neuron in the brain. The findings, say the scientists, shed light on the dynamic ...

Journaling inspires altruism through an attitude of gratitude

December 14, 2017
Gratitude does more than help maintain good health. New research at the University of Oregon finds that regularly noting feelings of gratitude in a journal leads to increased altruism.

9 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Skepticus
1 / 5 (3) Sep 20, 2012
In the study the researchers showed subjects a neutral picture and simultaneously administered an electric shock. In this way the picture came to elicit fear in the subjects which meant a fear memory had been formed.

Terrorists hear or hear something flying, shrug. Next, kaboom. Memory formed: see or hear plane, hide.
For one experimental group the reconsolidation process was disrupted with the aid of repeated presentations of the picture..In that the experimental group was not allowed to reconsolidate the fear memory, the fear they previously associated with the picture dissipated..by disrupting the reconsolidation process, the memory was rendered neutral and no longer incited fear..the researchers were able to show that the traces of that memory also disappeared from the part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories.
Getting shot at all the time become the expected fact of life. Shrug, and carry on as usual, especially paradise is promised after death..!
Tausch
1 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2012
...possible to erase newly formed....


The highest imperative is to remain consistent.
No memory recollection is 'neutral' . We have a translation problem here.
All memory incites emotion.

Pure conjecture.
emotion. There is no separation.

sirchick
5 / 5 (2) Sep 21, 2012
Possibly helpful for people with anxiety / phobias. Fingers crossed!
fmfbrestel
3 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2012
May represent a breakthrough? This effect has already been systematically documented as effective in treating PTSD through the administration of MDMA during the recall of traumatic events.

See http://www.maps.o...4-15.pdf for discusion of the effecacy of MDMA in treatment of PTSD

See http://www.maps.o...dob.html for a detailed discussion about treatment plans.

uhjim
3 / 5 (2) Sep 21, 2012
Fear of the unknown?
Tausch
1 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2012
Reconsolidation. What marks the completion of this?
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (2) Oct 01, 2012
Possibly helpful for people with anxiety / phobias. Fingers crossed!


Probably not for social anxiety, though. It could lead to an overly-trusting behaviour in an individual, causing them to be somewhat socially naive. Sometimes, past experiences can teach us valuable lessons about what to expect in the future.
NormanCayman
not rated yet Oct 02, 2012
There's an old saying that if you fall off a horse you should get right back on it again.
The article above seems to imply that this works by disrupting the reconsolidation process.

Not sure how effective it would be against ingrained fears and phobias.
DontLookNow
not rated yet Oct 02, 2012
Normal fear protects us from harm. Suppression or disruption of normal fear could be a very dangerous development. I can immediately see that this will be used in war and "brainwashing" applications:

1. "Have no fear of going into battle. You are expendable."
2. "Have no fear of us. Everything you have learned about us is wrong. We are your friends."

These techniques might also be misused on, say, kidnapping and incest victims--making victims inappropriately "forget" that they should be afraid.

This raises a host of ethical questions. Who is going to oversee the use of these techniques--and who is sufficiently trustworthy to make those decisions? Who decides the deciding factors? What measures could be implemented to prevent or stop unethical use, and how could unethical use even be detected?

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.