Memories are precious, well, some of them. Some memories are better left buried according to those who suffer from ailments such as PTSD.
That is why the current stir about the possibility to erase painful memories has grasped the attention of many people who suffer from this ailment. The ability to erase memories could change the way we see mental issues, especially PTSD. In fact, the ability to erase negative memories could completely eliminate this disorder completely.
How is this done? Well, science, of course, will show us how.
The Brain’s Secrets
There is a 40-year-old theory stating that memories are collected and retrieved in different parts of the brain, the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus. The cerebral cortex collects the information and stores it for later us-information of all sorts.
The Hippocampus is the area in which the memory is pieced together and reviewed. The memory is then brought to the forefront, letting the subject re-experience the event.
This knowledge, along with new research, headed by Kazumasa Tanaka and Brian Witigen of the University of California, also provided tests results concerning light and the brain. Apparently, light has the ability to erase memories. As far as negative memories go, the idea is to erase those experiences and give subjects a new lease on life, free of PTSD or other debilitating disorders.
Experimentation provides the proof that is needed with this theory. Using genetically modified lab rats, with nerve cells that shine fluorescent green, yes, you heard it right, these scientists were able to track the memory formation in the animal’s brain.
One of the more interesting observations was watching the nerve cells being turned off and on by a fiber optic cables linked directly to the brain. It seems that controlling memory was like turning off a light when leaving a room-simple, but very effective.
After this initial experimentation, researchers decided to measure the bad memories of the mice. As the lightly shocked the mice, when entering a certain area of the cage, the rodents began to associate that area with bad memories, essentially shutting down and refusing to move about. Using the fluorescent cells, researchers could study this reaction and pinpoint the source to the hippocampus, the area that retrieves memory.
This is when light comes into play. When the nerve cells were lit up, the memories disappeared and the mice forgot about the bad experience. In the same area where the negative memories were formed, they began to run around as if nothing happened. It seems that light can completely erase memories!
Scientists also learned, during this episode, that unrelated areas of the hippocampus, when stimulated, had absolutely no effect on the memory process whatsoever. This further solidified the truth of the complicated structure of the brain and its functions.
So now, what?
This information doesn’t mean that we will one day experience a total wipe of our memory banks in order to heal from mental suffering or does it…
As of now, all this really means is that we may one day, be able to find solutions to mental impairments such as PTSD, where memories can sometimes be huge stumbling blocks to the successful life. Science continues to investigate and improve, and we are waiting.
Image credit: Roberto Malinow, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego
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