Friday, Oct 24, 2008
It sounds like science fiction, by scientists say it might one day be possible to erase undesirable memories from the brain, selectively and safely.
Using a complex genetic approach, U.S. and Chinese researchers believe they have done just that in mice, but the feat is far from being tested on humans.
Study co-author Joe Z. Tsien, co-director of the Brain & Behavior Discovery Institute at the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, says the “work reveals a molecular mechanism of how [memory deletion] can be done quickly and without doing damage to brain cells.”
The finding is published in the Oct. 23 issue of Neuron.
(Article continues below)
Humans plagued by painful memories have long wished for a way to eject them from the brain. The concept was the premise of the popular 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which two former lovers pay a “memory-erasure” service to expunge the unhappy affair from their minds.
To explore the possibility of safely carving away bits of memory, the study authors first focused on the activity of a common protein found only in the brain, called CaMKII.
In both mice and people, this enzyme is often referred to as the “memory molecule” because of its key role in facilitating brain cell communication — especially people’s ability to learn and retain information.
To hone in on the specific workings of CaMKII, Tsien and his team first developed a “chemical-genetic method” that enabled them to instantly turn the protein “on” or “off” among mice intentionally bred to overproduce the molecule.