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Can fears really be removed permanently?
Certain situations in life can lead to psychological problems and deep fears. Such fears can haunt people for a lifetime. Researchers have now found that certain methods can completely erase memories.
The University of California scientists found that different tones are capable of triggering memories. However, there is a way to delete such memories. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "Neuron".
Memories can be strengthened or weakened
The results of the new study could be used in the future to strengthen or weaken certain memories without changing other memories, the authors explain. The method could potentially be used to help people with cognitive decline or post-traumatic stress disorder by deleting certain negative memories without affecting the useful memories, the researchers add.
Can memories of pathological fears be manipulated?
We can use the same approach to only manipulate the memory of pathological anxieties without affecting the memories useful for everyday life, explains author Jun-Hyeong Cho of the University of California, Riverside. The investigation is the latest in a series of studies looking at ways to erase unpleasant memories.
Doctors examined ways of processing sounds
In their investigation, the research team used genetically modified mice to study the pathways in the brain that are involved in processing a particular sound. The researchers also explain the area of the brain that is involved in emotional memories.
Mice were electrocuted when they heard high notes
Mice can be used particularly well to mark specific paths that transmit certain signals to the amygdala, the experts say. In this way, the scientists were able to identify which ways are modified when mice fear certain sounds. In the first part of the experiment, the team played both a high pitch and a low pitch for the mice. When the high note was played, the researchers gave the mice a small electric shock. Then when the high note was played later without an electric shock, the mice froze with fear. When the deep tower was played, no such reaction could be observed.
So far, the fears have returned after a certain time
The researchers then examined whether there were differences between the high and low tone paths in the mouse brain. The experts were able to determine that the connections involved in the processing of the high notes were strengthened in the mice exposed to the electric shock. If the mice were repeatedly exposed to high tones later without receiving electric shocks, the fears would slowly subside, the doctors say. This reduction of fears is the psychological basis of the so-called exposure therapy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders, the scientists explain. However, the fears returned after a certain period of time after the therapy. The new study may have now found the explanation for this impact. The neural pathway for the high tone continued to be increased in the mice, say the experts.
Does optogenetics allow memories to be permanently erased?
Fears cannot normally be completely erased, but only temporarily suppressed, the researchers explain. The new technology called optogenetics, however, now makes it possible to really delete unpleasant memories. This technique uses a virus to insert genes into certain neurons in the brains of the mice that have been involved in the transmission of high tones.
Low-frequency light treatment can actually permanently erase memories
If the cells are in the genes, this leads to the production of proteins that react to light. This allowed the researchers to control the activity of the neurons. In order to relieve the mice of their fears, the doctors exposed the neurons, which were involved in the transmission of high tones, to a low-frequency light. The result was that the mice no longer appeared anxious when they heard a high pitched tone. The treatment permanently erased the memory of their fears, the scientists explain. (as)