We’ve all got bad memories. Things we’ve done or that were done to us that we’re better off just forgetting. But sometimes the worst memories are the hardest ones to shake.
But there may soon be a way to erase memories from your brain as easily -- and selectively -- as dragging a file into the trash on your computer. Scientists at Florida’s Scripps Research Institute have figured out how to target certain memories by blocking the brain’s production of the chemical that we use to remember things.
So far, however, in a development that would make an interesting storyline on Breaking Bad, the technique has worked only on memories of taking methamphetamine.
Researchers hope that the discovery will aid in breaking patterns of addiction, caused by people associating triggering memories with use of any drug, or unwanted experience.
"We are focused on understanding what makes these memories different," said Courtney Miller, project leader and co-author of the study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. "The hope is that our strategies may be applicable to other harmful memories, such as those that perpetuate smoking or PTSD."
The researchers gave meth to mice and rats in the Scripps labs while giving the animals string sights and sounds to remember at the same time, causing the rodents to associate meth use with those sensory stimuli. The animals would show a strong interest in those sights and sounds later because they related to them to the sensation of being high on meth.
After waiting several days, the researchers injected the lab rats with chemicals that inhibit the production of the brain chemical actin, which helps form memories.
Exposing the rats and mice to the things which had previously excited them, Miller (pictured) and her team found that the lab animals subsequently lost all interest. They no longer remembered that the images were connected to meth use.
But the animals did not lose any other memories.
"Our memories make us who we are, but some of these memories can make life very difficult," said Miller. "Not unlike in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we're looking for strategies to selectively eliminate evidence of past experiences related to drug abuse or a traumatic event. Our study shows we can do just that in mice -- wipe out deeply engrained drug-related memories without harming other memories."
SOURCES: Nature World News, Time.com Science, University Herald, Biological Psychiatry