Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Biotech Science

Drug Deletes Fearful Memories 247

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the also-the-memory-that-you-paid-your-bill-already dept.
Al writes "Technology Review has an article about a common drug that seems to 'delete' painful memories related to a fearful experience. Experiments carried out by neuro-scientists at Emory University show that propranolol, a drug commonly used to treat high blood pressure, can suppress the emotional part of a fearful memory. The results, published in Nature Neuroscience, suggest a new way to treat anxiety disorders. In recent years, scientists have discovered that the simple act of remembering a past experience requires that the memory be consolidated once again. And both animal research and some human studies have shown that during re consolidation, long-term memories — once thought to be fairly stable — can be more easily meddled with."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Drug Deletes Fearful Memories

Comments Filter:
  • by mbstone (457308) on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:27PM (#26880081)

    Now they can make money re-educating the same students they educated before! Think of the student loan debt!

  • PropranoLOL (Score:5, Funny)

    by HTH NE1 (675604) on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:28PM (#26880089)

    Any relation to propofol, a.k.a. milk of amnesia?

    • Re:PropranoLOL (Score:5, Informative)

      by reverseengineer (580922) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:24PM (#26880729)
      Nope, propofol (2,6-diisopropyl phenol) likely works by increasing the response to inhibitory neurotransmitters, and acts as an anesthetic. Propanolol is a non-selective beta-blocker, which blocks the beta-adrenergic receptors (receptors for epinephrine and norepinephrine). As the summary notes, the most common pharmaceutical use for this is to lower blood pressure, which it does by preventing the release of renin. Its effects on memory are completely coincidental to those on blood pressure.

      In the brain, a part of the brainstem known as the locus ceruleus is the site of norepinephrine synthesis, and it is activated by stress to send norepinephrine to the amygdalae, the brain's "emotional memory association" centers. It is in the amygdalae that memories are associated with emotions, with the ultimate result being that it is easier to form long term memories of experiences that associated with strong emotions. In blocking norepinephrine transmission to the amygdala, beta-blockers most likely are acting to uncouple the connection between a stressor and its associated memory, such that the brain no longer considers it important enough to keep in long term memory.
    • Mr. Burns: Smithers, get the amnesia ray.
      Smithers: You mean the revolver, sir?
      Mr. Burns: Yes, and be sure to wipe your mind clear when you're done as well.
  • Drugs (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:29PM (#26880091)

    propranolol

    So this will turn your fearful memories into hilarious ones?

  • Bush/Cheney (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    So I can forget the past eight years?
    • As I said, you might completely and extensively relive them.

      But maybe that is what you want... :D

  • Ahh... (Score:3, Funny)

    by XPeter (1429763) * on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:30PM (#26880101) Homepage

    Now I can finally forget the day that ruined my life. It took me away from schoolwork, friends, family...it was horrible.

    Now I can finally forget the day I joined Slashdot.

  • by sjvn (11568) <sjvn&vna1,com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:30PM (#26880111) Homepage

    You know one does learn to avoid making many mistakes in life--I really cant fly, fire is pretty but it does hurt--by pain.

    Besides just the idea of tampering with memory being a *bad* thing, the notion of fooling with one of the fundamental ways we learn strikes me as a really bad idea.

    Soma anyone?

    Steven

    • by woolpert (1442969) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:01PM (#26880457)

      You speak as if our brain's software is without bugs. If you had seen the suffering and disablement that intense, often unreasonable, emotional pain can inflict on some people even years after the traumatic event, perhaps you would be less dismissive of an attempt to patch this particular bug.
      Expose X people to a horrific event and a high percentage of them will show the ability to get over it. There is that outlying group, however, who (despite honest effort and therapy) seem to have an overactive emotional memory system which prevents them from ever coming to terms with what happened.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Wrong. No one just "get[s] over it." Every individual, based on their prior experiences will take a given situation and either adapt to it to the best of their abilities, perhaps by adding it to their experience or by "moving on" and ignoring it even though the effect is still with them at a subconscious level. And the really poorly off people break; they have something happen to them so traumatic that it shatters their emotions. While they are the most obvious "victims" of an event, if they can't find help

      • There is that outlying group, however, who (despite honest effort and therapy) seem to have an overactive emotional memory system which prevents them from ever coming to terms with what happened.

        Some callous bastards would suggest that that is what we'd call natural selection...or at least it would be so called when it was shown that their inability to handle their trauma either prevents them from reproducing or decreases their parenting/nurturing abilities.

    • by bipbop (1144919) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:06PM (#26880513)

      You're right, to an extent. Living without pain is very hard--some individuals born without the ability have hellish lives as a result. But sometimes, pain teaches us lessons that aren't so good, like "I should never touch anyone for the rest of my life," because touching is so strongly associated with pain. How people with this sort of thing varies from one individual to the next, but for someone with a deeply ingrained irrational fear based on some painful experience, maybe removing the memory could be a good thing.

      Another way of looking at it is this: if you are raped, and the idea of sex is permanently distorted in your mind by the memory, then this memory is a punishment for something that isn't your fault, haunting you and messing up your life to this day. Wouldn't it be a good thing to allow the *option* of removing this weight from one's shoulders?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by drolli (522659)

      Hmmm you can record you life on a carry-on camera you carry around. A knowbot indexes it for you and after you agree with the indexing you swallow this drug. After that use google desktop to search you memories.

    • by flyingsquid (813711) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:19PM (#26880667)
      On the other hand, previous experiences suggest this might not be such a bad thing. It didn't actually do much damage last year when a secret biowarfare lab accidentally released the Mnemonivirus and we had a global Amnesia Plague. Remember that?
    • by jamesh (87723) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:45PM (#26880939)

      Besides just the idea of tampering with memory being a *bad* thing, the notion of fooling with one of the fundamental ways we learn strikes me as a really bad idea.

      Now suppose that you and your family were kidnapped from your home at gun point, and you had to watch while unspeakable things were done to them and to you.

      One thing you would 'learn' (and have a terrifying anxiety attack in response to) is that sitting around in your own home with your family is an unsafe thing to be doing, because something really bad happened one day when you were doing that. That response would be completely useless and would make your life an absolute misery.

      That's the sort of thing this drug could be useful in 'editing out'. 'editing out' the sort of 'that hurt me last time I did that so I won't do it again' memories is a stupid idea and I don't know why anyone would bring it up.

      The nature of most people on Slashdot appears to be to figure out a way that a certain product could be used badly, assume that that is the only way it could be used, and then post a whole lot of comments to that effect.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Scrameustache (459504)

        The nature of most people on Slashdot appears to be to figure out a way that a certain product could be used badly

        The first thing I thought of when I first heard about the research on trauma-amnesia, despite all the articles talking about treating post traumatic stress, was "oh great, they'll be able to torture people and make them forget that it happened".

        It's a post-modern thing. All the wonders of the 50s that ended up biting us in the ass. We're cynics now... until they treat us with this stuff, so we can get back to loving the petrochemical industry, in blissful forgetfulness of all the cancers and deformed babies

      • Ultimately, the problem is, we don't know the consequences of these actions until it is too late.

        It reminds me of a story I read a long time ago. I swear it was called "The Purple Room" and it was written by Hitchcock or someone similar ("Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind" was certainly inspired by it. I can't find any references to it. I must have some fact wrong).

        The story goes something like (please forgive me... it was almost 20 years ago when I read it): A man and a woman madly in love were on a sh
        • by jamesh (87723)

          While your intentions may be the best, the consequences are likely worse. You have no idea what else you are leaving behind until it is too late.

          Like anything, you weigh it up, and you may not always get it right. If someone with PTSD is so miserable that they would rather be dead (and will blow their brains out if you turn your back on them) then I think it's time to start considering things that you otherwise wouldn't consider.

          The guy in your hitchcock story may well have killed himself years earlier if h

      • The nature of most people on Slashdot appears to be to figure out a way that a certain product could be used badly, assume that that is the only way it could be used, and then post a whole lot of comments to that effect.

        History has shown us that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Government research on technology that can be used to enhance life is usually used first to destroy it - the atomic bomb being a good example. Other times, good technology is used for just general bad purpose when it c

      • by ultranova (717540)

        Now suppose that you and your family were kidnapped from your home at gun point, and you had to watch while unspeakable things were done to them and to you.

        One thing you would 'learn' (and have a terrifying anxiety attack in response to) is that sitting around in your own home with your family is an unsafe thing to be doing, because something really bad happened one day when you were doing that. That response would be completely useless and would make your life an absolute misery.

        And, having learned that,

      • by iamhigh (1252742)

        The nature of most people on Slashdot appears to be to figure out a way that a certain product could be used badly, assume that that is the only way it could be used, and then post a whole lot of comments to that effect.

        That may be true, but is it bad? I see people all around me that simply accept what they are told. They are idiots. Being able to take a claim, analyze it, find faults, then weight them against the good is at the heart of a rational, logical decision. I would trade the current state of many minds (accept what you are told, don't question the govt/school/science/religion) for those who are over-zealous on finding the faults in whatever they are told.

        Now, GET BACK IN LINE!

    • by rtb61 (674572)
      Now if the could selectively get rid of good memories, that would be really useful. Do the same fun thing over and over again, for the very first time, cool. Watch the same sci fi series or movies for the first time over and over again, no more clichés, really cool ;).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Ever heard of phobias? PTSD? How does a person benefit from remembering their "mistakes" in those cases? Sometimes the mistake is remembering something when you don't need it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by uniquegeek (981813)

      There would be a difference between using this on someone who encountered stressful things and had a hard time getting over it, versus someone who has PTSD or PTSD-e and is virtually incapacitated by the affliction.

      Having bad days and dealing with depression is one thing. Having recurring nightmares of terror and constantly reliving every bad encounter in your life is another.

    • by wellingj (1030460)
      Don't forget the part where public schools and corporate health-care start prescribing it to people to help them adjust to a socio-political system that robs them of their individual rights.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Well, if you combine it with Ambien ("The drug to calm the restless mind") then perhaps you can turn into a complete zombie. (I smell a movie here.)

  • Interestingly, it turns out that the test subjects are actually ghosts who are dreaming the future.

  • Eternal Sunshine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sexybomber (740588) <boccilino AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:32PM (#26880139)

    Admittedly I didn't RTFA, but is this specific to just painful memories? I mean, I'd love to delete some memories I have, but I wouldn't want to run the risk of overwriting, say, my acceptance to law school, or memories of particularly good sex, for example. (Yes, strangely enough for a Slashdotter, I have had some.)

    How can the drug possibly discriminate between good and bad memories, or for that matter, any memories at all?

    • by guyminuslife (1349809) on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:35PM (#26880185)

      The headline is somewhat misleading. The memory is not erased. Rather, the emotions associated it are dampened. As in, "I saw my mother hacked to pieces with a chainsaw. Meh."

      • The headline is somewhat misleading. The memory is not erased. Rather, the emotions associated it are dampened. As in, "I saw my mother hacked to pieces with a chainsaw. Meh."

        Which means this drug would severely decrease the chances of a real-life Dexter! Ban it!

      • by Manchot (847225)

        Dear Ken,
        I'm in pieces. Why the cold shoulder?
        Love, Barbie.

  • Dupe? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:32PM (#26880143) Homepage Journal

    I've seen this story before. I think.

  • by tyroneking (258793) on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:35PM (#26880183)

    "SIDE EFFECTS: Propranolol is generally well tolerated, and side effects are mild and transient. Rare side effects include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, insomnia, nausea, depression, dreaming, memory loss, fever, impotence, lightheadedness, slow heart rate, low blood pressure, numbness, tingling, cold extremities, sore throat, and shortness of breath or wheezing. "

    Lot of patients who I've dealt with who took this drug suffered from impotence and had to be changed to alternative medication - wonder if in fact all that happened is that they forgot what do with it :)

    I vaguely remember being told by a gynae doc that Pethidine had some memory loss effects too

    The article linked above also goes on to say:
    "Kindt's team has already tested whether the propranolol effect lasts longer than three days--a key requirement for therapeutic use--but she declined to give the results because they have been submitted for publication."

    So continuous treatment might be required? Side effects of prop. can be worse than the memories maybe?

    Really, what's wrong with spending money on counselling instead?

    (IANAD - but IWAP)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by gmuslera (3436)
      Don't care... after the drug strips the emotional content of the memory of having suffering all of those side effects, it will just dont matter anymore.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      So continuous treatment might be required? Side effects of prop. can be worse than the memories maybe?

      Really, what's wrong with spending money on counselling instead?

      Sometimes counseling doesn't or won't work. 10+ years is enough for me to say that another 10 years won't work. And those side effects that you listed? I'd consider them minor, others might not, but that's their decision to make.

  • by ShooterNeo (555040) on Monday February 16, 2009 @07:56PM (#26880401)

    If everything that you think you are (your memories) gets gradually shifted and rewritten from day to day, who are we? Never minding the fact that it appears our conscious existence ends when we die, it's almost as if we die a tiny bit every day. While I think I remember who I was 10, 20 years ago, if these memories are faulty and always being revised, perhaps I am that person no longer.

            Some days, I look around and find it remarkable that I even exist. But, sadly, that appears to be a temporary state of being. Not only will I not exist in the future, it appears that I will not even be able to know I don't exist. And now, with these discoveries on memory, it appears that this gradual process of death happens even when we are still alive.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Scary, but not young. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/identity-relative/ [stanford.edu]
    • Why do you think memories make up who you are? They're just things that happened. And how do you know you won't exist in the future? Last time I checked, the debate on what happens when you die was far from over.

    • Look up the Ship of Theseus example.
    • by rdnetto (955205)

      Not so much death as growth.
      We are not the same people as we were yesterday, but we continue to grow and evolve into better people with each day. If your memories were static, then there would be no potential for new insight, new interpretations or innovation of any kind.

  • by psnyder (1326089) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:02PM (#26880465)
    I'll keep my alcohol. Years of private studies show loss of fear and suppression of bad memories.
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@gm a i l.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:04PM (#26880487) Homepage Journal

    Such a drug could be enormously helpful for soldiers suffering from PTSD.

  • by blakedev (1397081) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:11PM (#26880559)
    "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and now we have a drug for it."
  • I guess using this technique you could torture someone, then make it "all better."

    Lovely.

    • by mkcmkc (197982)

      Well, for the many people who have been tortured, it would be nice to have a medical palliative, yes. Currently their lives may well be more or less destroyed.

      (insert Guantanimo/extraordinary-rendition slam here, etc.)

  • Pipe it into the U.S. water supply, and maybe we can all forget the last eight painful years...

  • by rayd75 (258138) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:45PM (#26880937)

    The drug in the study is a beta blocker. They are used heavily to treat high blood pressure, heart rhythm issues, and specific aspects of heart failure. The study indicates that they MAY be useful in helping to dampen the negative feelings associated with traumatic memories when combined with specifically designed therapy. There's no claim that they can actually cause a memory to be forgotten. It's not a potential lifestyle drug poised for widespread abuse. Most links I've seen to this article and others covering the study seem to suggest that simply popping one of these pills will make you forget an entire event at will. It's nowhere near that simple. If it were, I'd be a lot more laid-back than I actually am.

  • by straponego (521991) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:52PM (#26880997)

    After all, if you can't remember being tortured, and there's no permanent physical damage, where's the harm?

    Also, with this or roofie-type drugs, I wouldn't be surprised if some people were willing to pay to be tortured, as long as they couldn't remember it.

    Lastly, quit referencing Eternal Sunshine. Yeah, it was okay. The original PKD story, We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, was pretty good too. Of course, they never gave credit, just like Idiocracy never credited Kornbluth's Marching Morons, despite being a verbatim copy. Pretty sure Harlan Ellison had a similar story, but I... can't remember right now.

    Oh look, the coffee just hit.

  • ... when 'Battlefield Earth' was released?

    Wait a minute. I think I posted the same quip the last time this story came out.......Oh No!!!!! Old jokes live on!

  • can suppress the emotional part of a fearful memory

    What about supressing the emotional part of an intense, but not exactly fearful memory? There wasn't cure for love... till now?

  • I wish people would stop using words like "delete". Evidence suggests that the brain simple doesn't work like that.

  • by margaret (79092) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:23PM (#26881233)

    I'm sick of these stupid "propranolol deletes memory" headlines. There was even an episode of boston legal or law & order perpetuating this nonsense a year or so ago. The drug does not "delete" a specific memory. The only people who can that are on star trek. The drug simply reduces the emotional significance of the memory, uncoupling it from the autonomic/fear response associated with it. A HUGE difference.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:31PM (#26881319)

    I'll finally be able to wipe the image of Goatse from my mind.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      I'll finally be able to wipe the image of Goatse from my mind.

      You know, this is something I've never quite understood. Goatse is, in the end, a man with a big ass mooning the camera. It's not shocking, it's not disgusting, it's not even particularly ugly. Far worse things get posted daily on Gurochan. So why is Goatse considered the archetypical shock site? Or is that the whole joke which just whooshed over my head?

  • Finally! (Score:3, Informative)

    by el3mentary (1349033) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:33PM (#26881335)

    I can win at the game!

  • TFA is more than most hyping of background and implications of a minor advancement, written so as to appear TFA is the origin. But this time there are even falsehoods in the summary.

    The study tests a very physiologically based instinct and the effect if the drug to alter that response. Altering a physiological reaction is not the same as blocking part of a memory. Startle response is easily reduced in almost everyone by giving a startling or even sub-startling stimulus 1/2 second prior to the target. Nobody

    • by TheLink (130905)
      Yep that's the important bit: "long-term memories -- once thought to be fairly stable -- can be more easily meddled with".

      We already know that memories are unreliable. Now here we have a way to make them even more unreliable.

      If you delete memories, it makes it easier to replace them with new fake ones (which is probably the intended usage).

      If you do things wrong, you can traumatize someone, over and over again. And they might think the new traumatic memories are real and sue the wrong person for the wrong t
  • Needless hype (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bones3D_mac (324952) on Monday February 16, 2009 @10:12PM (#26881833)

    This is a topic that has popped up on Slashdot several times in the last year alone... a beta-blocker somehow altering mind function to improve concentration, increase cognitive abilities, recreational "doping" of the brain, etc...

    It seems far more likely, that this isn't actually "removing" anything from the brain in terms of bad thoughts, but instead is making the brain better able to cope with a bad experience by improving it's ability to reason it's way through it using common sense and logic.

    Likewise, it could also be argued that people who can't normally focus on a simple task at will often end up going off on wild tangents at random instead, and will ultimately go insane trying to consciously resolve whatever scenario pops up in their mind at any given moment, only to shift the workload over to resolve a completely separate scenario brought on by attempting to resolve the previous one. Since this accomplish nothing but large amounts repetitive thinking on the same overall theme, while generating no useful information or solutions, it's not surprising that someone locked in such a state would be depressed and believe themselves to be "traumatized".

    I suppose a beta-blocker might help a case like this, but it seems like this is simply restating the obvious to make whichever drug company did this study seem more "profitable" through sensationalism.

  • Everone knows what this drugs name should really be.

    Repressitol!

    -Millhouse

  • There's a simple mechanism in all of us, protecting our brain from being overwhelmed by something that we can't grasp at that moment. (Eg. because it is too horrible.)
    It's called repression.

    A bit of it is normal, and everyone does it.

    But normally, you process it later, when you got the psychological hold and stability to fully face it.
    If this does not happen, you will start to live in a delusional world.

    Neurally, it is a simple over-association. You link things that are not linked in reality, because -- in

  • The article has a quote attributed to, "a neuroscientist at Emory University, in Atlanta, who was not involved in the research." Further down, it says the research took place at the University of Amsterdam.
  • Eh, maybe it can remove the damage the goatse guy has done to some of us.

    Gerry

You might have mail.

Working...