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

What if consciousness is not what drives the human mind?

November 22, 2017
Everyone knows what it feels like to have consciousness: it's that self-evident sense of personal awareness, which gives us a feeling of ownership and control over the thoughts, emotions and experiences that we have every ...

Team constructs whole-brain map of electrical connections key to forming memories

November 22, 2017
A team of neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania has constructed the first whole-brain map of electrical connectivity in the brain based on data from nearly 300 neurosurgical patients with electrodes implanted ...

To forget or to remember? Memory depends on subtle brain signals, scientists find

November 22, 2017
The fragrance of hot pumpkin pie can bring back pleasant memories of holidays past, while the scent of an antiseptic hospital room may cause a shudder. The power of odors to activate memories both pleasing and aversive exists ...

Pitch imperfect? How the brain decodes pitch may improve cochlear implants

November 22, 2017
Picture yourself with a friend in a crowded restaurant. The din of other diners, the clattering of dishes, the muffled notes of background music, the voice of your friend, not to mention your own – all compete for your ...

Now you like it, now you don't: Brain stimulation can change how much we enjoy and value music

November 20, 2017
Enjoyment of music is considered a subjective experience; what one person finds gratifying, another may find irritating. Music theorists have long emphasized that although musical taste is relative, our enjoyment of music, ...

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 ...

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.