Originally published December 5 2013
Scientists easily reprogram childhood memories of adult study subjects
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) What would happen if someday medical science could essentially erase your real memories and replace them with phony ones? There's no way this technology could be misused, right?
Well, according to published reports, Mankind may be on the verge of just that very thing. According to the magazine Popular Science, a small group of studies have demonstrated that scientists are on the cusp of being able to not just erase memories but rewrite them as well.
"Roadside bombs, childhood abuse, car accidents - they form memories that can shape (and damage) us for a lifetime," says a report in the magazine. "The hope is that this research will lead to medical treatments, especially for addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."
For decades, medical science has understood that memories are not always reliable. And they are very prone to adjustment when actively recalled, because at that juncture they are being pulled from a stable molecular state.
Possible treatment for mental problems
Earlier this year, scientists published a study conducted at the University of Washington in which adult volunteers took a survey about eating and drinking habits before they turned 16 years old.
One week later, the participants were given personalized analyses of their answers which falsely stated that they had gotten sick from vodka or rum as a teen. One in five participants not only didn't notice the lie but also recalled false memories about it and rated that particular liquor as being less desirable than they had earlier indicated.
"Studies like these point to possible treatments for mental health problems," Popular Science reported. "Both PTSD and addiction disorders hinge on memories that can trigger problematic behaviors, such as crippling fear caused by loud noises or cravings brought about by the sight of drug paraphernalia."
Several other studies have isolated chemical compounds which can be utilized to subdue or even delete memories in mice, and the hope is that someday the same can be done in humans, scientists say.
An Emory University researcher led the research for a report published in June showing that SR-8993, a drug that acts on the brain's opioid receptors, can prevent a fear memory from formulating.
To discover this, researchers strapped mice to a wooden board for two hours - a very stressful activity that led to a heightened sense of fear similar to PTSD. But mice that were given SR-8993 before or after the stressful incident were less likely to wind up with the condition.
Sounds a bit creepy, but still...
A separate study identified another drug, Latrunculin A, which is capable of erasing memories days later. The researchers for this study trained rodents to eat methamphetamine in an environment with "distinctive visual, tactile and scent cues" such as black walls, gridded floors and the smell of vanilla or peppermint, the magazine said.
"Rodents that were injected with Latrunculin A two days later didn't seek out meth when returned to that environment, but others did. Latrunculin A is known to mess up scaffolding that supports connections between neurons. Considering how broadly these two drugs affect the brain, there's a possibility of serious side effects," reported PopSci.
Ultimately, scientists will have to understand how the brain's neurons work to encode each memory, in order to make more targeted treatments. In 2012, Susumu Tonegawa, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reported that individual memories in mice can leave distinctive molecular signatures in the brain's hippocampus area. In July, this research group was able to cause mice to falsely associate an old memory with a new context, which essentially created a false memory.
"The idea of scientists manipulating memory does, naturally, sound a bit creepy. But it also points to some possible good: treatment for millions of people tormented by real memories. And that's something worth remembering," the magazine said.
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