Scientists explore memories, true and false

November 29, 2013 by Nancy Owano, Medical Xpress weblog

(Medical Xpress)—Not all memories are good and some might be so bad that they are debilitating; successful ways of coping with bad memories are to transform them into learning experiences and to derive strength from adversity. Another human reaction is to allow the memories to block the ability to move forward. In short, dwelling on rather than learning from the past is not a good thing. For some people who suffer trauma, though, moving forward may be far easier said than done. Scientists recognize the effects that events such as bombs, childhood abuse, and serious accidents have on human behavior and are exploring ways in which memory affects human behavior. In particular, a recent article in Popular Science calls attention to studies that are exploring ways to erase and even edit memories. "The hope is that this research will lead to medical treatments, especially for addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."

Much of this type of research uses rodents as models and has been ongoing for a number of years. A 2010 article in Smithsonian magazine noted how researchers have found that a memory may be weakened if the animal was given an electric shock or a drug that interferes with a neurotrasnmitter. In short, memories could be disrupted.

While the research path of exploring memory via the effects of chemicals or drugs is not new, in June a report gained renewed attention when the researchers from Emory, University of Miami and Scripps Research Institute identified a compound that can reduce PTSD-like symptoms in after they are exposed to stress. While some mice were made to exhibit a heightened sense of fear similar to PTSD, the mice that were administered the compound SR-8993 were less likely to show that kind of stress. The paper was of interest because the discovery may eventually lead to treating people affected by trauma, such as preventing possible PTSD. "While many hurdles remain for SR-8993 or a related compound to become a drug used to prevent PTSD, these results are important first steps in understanding how such treatments may be effective," said Thomas Bannister, PhD, associate director of translational research and assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at Scripps Research Institute.

Also, work has continued in the area of false memory. Susumu Tonegawa at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who in 1994 founded the Center for Learning and Memory at MIT and, in 2002, the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, has done work involving false memory planted in a mouse's brain. Last year, Tonegawa reported that individual memories in mice leave molecular signatures in the hippocampus region of the brain. Earlier this year, his group caused mice to falsely associate an old memory with a new context. That the scientists implanted a in the brains of mice resonates with a phenomenon where people may claim they remember events or experiences, insisting their memory serves them correctly, that never happened. Tonegawa, a neuroscientist, has been interested in false memories; the mouse models created by the MIT team could help scientists examine complex questions about memories in people. He and his team have encoded memories in the brains of mice by manipulating neurons. Tonegawa's team have used optogenetics, which allows the control of individual brain cells.

Meanwhile, the positive and the negative implications of manipulations are not lost on scientists. Earlier this year, an article about-Tonegawa's work in The Guardian reported on the experiment and also turned to Chris French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. French said that the latest results were an important first step in understanding false memories' neural basis. Nonetheless, as the technology develops, said French, scientists need to think about its uses carefully. "Whatever means are used to implant false memories, we need to be very aware of the ethical issues raised by such procedures - the potential for abuse of such techniques cannot be overstated."

Explore further: Modifying activity of neuronal networks that encode spatial memories leads to formation of incorrect fear memory in mice

More information: … tors/susumu-tonegawa

Related Stories

Modifying activity of neuronal networks that encode spatial memories leads to formation of incorrect fear memory in mice

September 13, 2013
The formation and retrieval of memories allows all kinds of organisms, including humans, to learn and thrive in their environment. Yet our memories are not always accurate, and mistaken remembrances can have important consequences, ...

Neuroscientists show ability to plant false memories

July 25, 2013
The phenomenon of false memory has been well-documented: In many court cases, defendants have been found guilty based on testimony from witnesses and victims who were sure of their recollections, but DNA evidence later overturned ...

Study suggests possibility of selectively erasing unwanted memories

September 10, 2013
The human brain is exquisitely adept at linking seemingly random details into a cohesive memory that can trigger myriad associations—some good, some not so good. For recovering addicts and individuals suffering from post-traumatic ...

The pauses that refresh the memory

November 29, 2013
Sufferers of schizophrenia experience a broad gamut of symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions as well as disorientation and problems with learning and memory. This diversity of neurological deficits has made schizophrenia ...

How old memories fade away: Discovery of a gene essential for memory extinction could lead to new PTSD treatments

September 18, 2013
If you got beat up by a bully on your walk home from school every day, you would probably become very afraid of the spot where you usually met him. However, if the bully moved out of town, you would gradually cease to fear ...

Study creates new memories by directly changing the brain

September 10, 2013
By studying how memories are made, UC Irvine neurobiologists created new, specific memories by direct manipulation of the brain, which could prove key to understanding and potentially resolving learning and memory disorders.

Recommended for you

The brain learns completely differently than we've assumed since the 20th century

March 23, 2018
The brain is a complex network containing billions of neurons, where each of these neurons communicates simultaneously with thousands of other via their synapses (links). However, the neuron actually collects its many synaptic ...

Being hungry shuts off perception of chronic pain

March 22, 2018
Pain can be valuable. Without it, we might let our hand linger on a hot stove, for example. But longer-lasting pain, such as the inflammatory pain that can arise after injury, can be debilitating and costly, preventing us ...

From signal propagation to consciousness: New findings point to a potential connection

March 22, 2018
Researchers at New York University have discovered a novel mechanism through which information can be effectively transmitted across many areas in the brain—a finding that offers a potentially new way of understanding how ...

Using simplicity for complexity—new research sheds light on the perception of motion

March 22, 2018
A team of biologists has deciphered how neurons used in the perception of motion form in the brain of a fly —a finding that illustrates how complex neuronal circuits are constructed from simple developmental rules.

Focus on early stage of illness may be key to treating ALS, study suggests

March 22, 2018
A new kind of genetically engineered mouse and an innovation in how to monitor those mice during research have shed new light on the early development of an inherited form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Flow of spinal fluid disrupted in inherited developmental disorder

March 22, 2018
Scientists have pinpointed the mechanism behind hydrocephalus, an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain, in an inherited developmental disorder called Noonan syndrome.


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.