Alice recently finished an MSc in Science, Media and Communication and now works as a communications officer at the Medical Research Council. She did her BSc in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Bath, which included a placement year at Pfizer. Alongside being an editor, she still likes to write and has now started her own column.
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We all have events in our past that we would prefer to forget. What if these memories could be erased from our minds forever? Would it always be for the best? This is the question posed by ‘Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind’, a film that explores what happens when two lovers go to extreme lengths to get over each other. Now, researchers are seeking to make this fiction fact .
While little attention has been given to solving lovers’ feuds, the ability to erase the long-lasting fear associated with traumatic experiences could provide welcome relief for those who suffer from conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) . Now researchers, led by Li-Huei Tsai, have published a paper in Cell that describes how traumatic memories were successfully erased from the brains of mice .
Teaching mice to associate an experience they fear (e.g. an electric foot shock) with another stimulus (e.g. a loud noise) is known as Pavlovian fear conditioning. The mice then show the same fearful response, freezing, when they hear the noise, even when no shock is given, as it triggers the traumatic memory. It is known that this learnt association can be reversed through a process known as reconsolidation, whereby these memories are re-learnt as safe. After repeated exposure to the noise in a safe environment, the mice no longer freeze. There is one big problem; it only works if you start treating them six hours or less after the initial experience. Otherwise the fear would keep coming back .
So behavioural methods are effective if treatment is given shortly after the traumatic experience. This...
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