Erasing Our Memories
Who hasn’t dreamed of owning the memory eraser from Men in Black? We all have awkward, embarrassing memories that we wish we could simply wipe from our minds. For people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), certain traumatic memories are so triggering that they can cause insomnia, depression and anxiety. The ability to erase those harrowing memories would greatly improve the lives of people with the disorder, possibly even curing them altogether. While erasing memories with a flash of light may be just a little too sci-fi, recent research into the biological mechanisms of memory offer hope of memory deletion coming in the form of a pill or an injection..
Memories are not as stable as you might expect. When a memory is recalled, It can be strengthened, weakened or updated. Think of how when you see a friend with a new haircut, your visual memory of them is changed to incorporate it. However, retrieved memories are fragile, in the same way that putting up a tent without pegs makes it vulnerable to being blown away. The process of stabilising a memory (hammering in the tent pegs) is called reconsolidation. If we can prevent reconsolidation from happening, then we can cause the memory to vanish.
Joseph LeDoux, professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University, blocked reconsolidation in rats by injecting an antibiotic known as anisomycin into the amygdala (the brain region responsible for.storing certain types of memory). This caused the rats to forget things they had been previously taught, such as fear of a stimulus. Although anisomycin is toxic to humans, other studies have suggested that beta-blockers may produce similar results in the human brain. All signs suggest that memory deletion won’t be confined to science fiction for much longer.