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Medicine Science Technology

Memories of Fear Could Be Permanently Erased, Study Shows ( 38

A new study unpicks why certain sounds can stir alarming memories, and reveals a new approach to wiping such memories from the brain. The Guardian reports: Published in the journal Neuron by Cho and his colleague Woong Bin Kim, the research reveals how the team used genetically modified mice to examine the pathways between the area of the brain involved in processing a particular sound and the area involved in emotional memories, known as the amygdala. In the first part of the experiment the team played both a high pitched and low-pitched tone to mice. But, when the high-pitched sound was played, the researchers also gave the mice a small electric shock to their feet. When the high-pitched tone was subsequently played on its own, the mice froze in fear; no such response was seen when the alternative, low-pitched, tone was played. The team then looked to see if there were differences between the high-pitch and low-pitch tone pathways in the brains of the mice, revealing that, among the mice exposed electric shocks, the connections within the "high-pitched" pathway had become stronger, while the other pathway remained unchanged. The team found that when mice were subsequently repeatedly exposed to high-pitched sounds without the shocks they lost their fear -- a process known as fear extinction.

But the team discovered that using a technique called optogenetics, it was possible to truly erase the unpleasant memories. This technique involved the researchers using a virus to introduce genes into particular neurons in the brains of the mice that were involved in the "high-pitch" pathways. Once inside the cells, the genes result in the production of proteins which respond to light, allowing researchers to control the activity of the neurons. Taking mice with the fearful memories, the team exposed the neurons involved in the "high-pitch" pathway to low-frequency light -- an approach which weakens the connections between the neurons. The upshot was that the mice no longer appeared fearful when they heard the high-pitched tone.

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Memories of Fear Could Be Permanently Erased, Study Shows

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  • by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Friday August 18, 2017 @09:14PM (#55045665)
    my fear of high pitched tones can finally be cured. Callas need ho longer terrify me.
  • I accidentally stumbled on an episode of Girls and saw Lena Dunham naked. Wipe all my memories if you have to! Just get me out of this living nightmare!

  • by Anonymous Coward

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    • by Anonymous Coward
      if you combine it with SystemD then it would be even better.
  • Now the Muslims don't have to stop attacking us and the ruling elite doesn't have to stop taking power away from us.

    All that is needed is some viruses and scientists shining light into our brains and they can both just continue as they do.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I used to be afraid of President Trump, now I just laugh at him.

  • How do we know that the mice didn't just become deaf?

    • by pjt33 ( 739471 )

      AIUI the pathway that's "depotentiated" isn't the actual hearing the sound (so it's not that they became deaf), nor the storage of the memory (so TFA is wrong), but the connection between the two. In other words, the mice still hear the sound, but their brain doesn't check for memories associated with that stimulus, so although the memory is still there it isn't accessed and the logical response is not triggered.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Suddenly electric shock became the least of their problems after they had their skulls cracked open and brains exposed to low frequency light.
  • What if you're afraid of quiet stuff?

  • If this method of genetic modification to a negative fear response is possible, can a previously non-existent or low-level fear be amplified? How about other areas of the brain controlling other factors like emotion, cognition, etc? Submissiveness? Critical-thinking ability? Tendency to join group-think?

    Lots of Dystopian possibilities, especially since it is accomplished through a virus, which would seem to lend itself to wide & rapid dissemination. How difficult would it be for terrorists or a rogue na

  • Is it a magical place?

  • ...but after visiting the ministry of thought i don't remember why...

  • The mice are bound to take over.

  • If I recall that when I touched a hot stove, it burned and hurt that makes me want to avoid doing it again in the future. We are animals. Everything we think, do, etc. has a survival motive even fear. I seriously doubt that scientists will discover a way to make us into a better evolutionary hot mess. It's more likely they will cause more harm than good by trying.

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. -- John Kenneth Galbraith