House of Mind

"Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind" - Jeffrey Eugenides

  • 6th March
    2012
  • 06
WiredScience: A pill that can erase painful memories forever?

Even though PTSD is triggered by a stressful incident, it is really a disease of memory. The problem isn’t the trauma—it’s that the trauma can’t be forgotten. Most memories, and their associated emotions, fade with time. But PTSD memories remain horribly intense, bleeding into the present and ruining the future. So, in theory, the act of sharing those memories is an act of forgetting them. 

In the past decade, scientists have come to realize that our memories are not inert packets of data and they don’t remain constant. Even though every memory feels like an honest representation, that sense of authenticity is the biggest lie of all.

Every memory begins as a changed set of connections among cells in the brain. If you happen to remember this moment—the content of this sentence—it’s because a network of neurons has been altered, woven more tightly together within a vast electrical fabric. This linkage is literal: For a memory to exist, these scattered cells must become more sensitive to the activity of the others, so that if one cell fires, the rest of the circuit lights up as well. Scientists refer to this process as long-term potentiation, and it involves an intricate cascade of gene activations and protein synthesis that makes it easier for these neurons to pass along their electrical excitement. Sometimes this requires the addition of new receptors at the dendritic end of a neuron, or an increase in the release of the chemical neurotransmitters that nerve cells use to communicate. Neurons will actually sprout new ion channels along their length, allowing them to generate more voltage. Collectively this creation of long-term potentiation is called the consolidation phase, when the circuit of cells representing a memory is first linked together. Regardless of the molecular details, it’s clear that even minor memories require major work. The past has to be wired into your hardware.

I just found this online and could not be more proud that I know and am professionally associated to these people. I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Karim Nader (he’s the coolest) at a GRC conference and hearing all he has to say about memory reconsolidation and zeta. And as for Joe Le Doux, well he’s the director for our institute (EBI). 

Anyhow, the link above is a strongly encouraged read, as it explains the persistence of PTSD (and traumatic memories) as well as memory mechanisms like reconsolidation. The molecular player in question, PKMzeta, is actually at the centerpiece of one of our current collaborations. 

In short, read read read!