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Biotech Science

Drug Deletes Fearful Memories 247

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."
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Drug Deletes Fearful Memories

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  • by sjvn ( 11568 ) <sjvn@vn[ ]com ['a1.' in gap]> on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:30PM (#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?


  • by guyminuslife ( 1349809 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:35PM (#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."

  • by woolpert ( 1442969 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:01PM (#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.

  • by bipbop ( 1144919 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:06PM (#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?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:29PM (#26880801)

    Actually, you can teach yourself to forget once you develop a certain level of introspection.

    The key is in realizing that trying not to think about X will, in fact, cause you to think about X by reference. Combine that with the fact that one memory will trigger related memories (as if they were all connected by URLs or pointers or what have you... yes, I am a software geek) and you may start to see the solution.

    First, you need a 'null thought' to overwrite the bad memory with. This should be a thought that references only itself. A software diagram that showed a memory scheme where address 0 was filled with 0x00 so that it acted as a null pointer that pointed to itself was what gave me that idea. It's not unlike the sink state of a state machine.

    You might worry that it will develop links to the outside as you use it as a replacement. This is a reasonable worry, but solved via use. Most people can't remember how many times they've, say, breathed, because the memories are indistinct. There are simply too many of them. Forget enough and the null memory will be the same.

    After that, you need the introspection to know when you're about to think about the thought you want to replace, at which time you divert to the null thought. It won't quite work at first. But over time, the memory will lose power by virtue of not having been thought of as much. The further ingrained into your mind the memory is, the harder it will be to forget. If you erase it right away, it may die on the spot. If this is the most painful moment of your life that you've lived with for decades... you might not be able to fully get rid of it, but you may be able to think about it a lot less.

    Be smart about what you erase. Sometimes painful memories are a part of us. You don't have to erase everything. Just find a level you can live with and stay there. It's hard sometimes. And not every bad memory should be erased. Sometimes, you're better talking them out with someone you trust. Sharing your pain is another way to lessen it. That's a lot better than having some weird drug mess with your mind. And that goes double for illegal drugs.

  • by rayd75 ( 258138 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:45PM (#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 jamesh ( 87723 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:45PM (#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.

  • A cure for goatse? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:53PM (#26881005)

    And they said some things couldn't be unseen.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @10:12PM (#26881131) Journal

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

    or marriage ;-P

  • by RockWolf ( 806901 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @10:19PM (#26881195)

    The dampening is a temporary one while you are on the drug. Come off of it, and things return as they were before. This is going to be worthless unless they intend to keep the PTSD folks on it the rest of their lives. I've been on it.

    On that note - as you point out, it only works when you're on it. Does that emotion-suppression while you're taking the drug allow a better success rate of more normal therapies, so it is possible to stop taking it and not undo the therapy? Or should I RTFA?


  • by SoupIsGoodFood_42 ( 521389 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @10:26PM (#26881275)

    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.

  • by uniquegeek ( 981813 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @10:27PM (#26881283)

    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 woolpert ( 1442969 ) on Monday February 16, 2009 @11:39PM (#26882157)

    So in an attempt to create a "quick fix" you are advocating the permission for people to bury their heads in the sand and let life pass them by because they got hurt and don't want to feel bad?

    As I previously said, there is a group of people who, despite honest effort and therapy, do not recover from traumatic events. There is no support for a quick fix anywhere in my earlier comments. Stop attempting to straw-man this.

    I think you ought to either drop the programming analogy or realize that there are no "bugs" in our "software." Humans can't "upgrade their firmware" to overcome "short-sighted design" or development. They either adapt at a conscious level or a subconscious level; the former has a much more obvious affect on their abilities, while the latter is harder to actualize, but can be just as potent

    Bullshit. There are clearly innate and instinctual functions of our brain our higher processes wish they could override. We have an onion of a brain with layer upon layer of functionality, but also layer upon layer of cruft.
    Flinching when you know the person isn't going to hit you. Accelerated heartbeat when you know it is only a movie. Goosebumps when you know you have no hair to fluff. Even the annoying sensation of cold when you know you are able to maintain core temperature. All of these are examples of where, despite conscious will, our base programming still rules.

    It sounds to me that you are letting people suffer through ignorance and allow them to experience the same things later, which they will then also need to be treated for.

    You're assuming these people can learn. I'm arguing there is a class of case where normal brain function has been so disrupted by an overactive response to an emotional event that learning from the event is impossible. Despite your insistent wish to believe that isn't so.

    Do I think that emotionally damaged people deserve a second chance? Sure, but with the proper tools and in the proper environment, not through the use of a one-size-fits-all memory supplement (or otherwise)...

    Who says this is a one-size-fits-all solution? Not I. It appears to me that there is either a reading comprehension problem or a desire to straw-man again.

    ...that doesn't solve the victimization problem of the event from reoccurring.

    A non-functional personality can solve no problems. Either we do what we can to restore advanced functionality (and maybe this will prove an effective tool to do so) or we accept the person as a loss. Many really are just that far gone.

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...