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Traumatic memories can last a lifetime, but a recent study shows that these memories can be undone by interfering with perineuronal nets.


Steve Pogonowski
Faculty of 1000: Biology and Medicine


It is well known that fear memories are permanent. However, a recent paper in Science, evaluated by three Faculty Members for F1000, reports an extraordinary finding that supports the use of a drug to control recollections of traumatic incidents.


The researchers demonstrated that, in mice, proteins known as extracellular matrix chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans form ‘neural nets’ in the brain that protect against the erasure of memory. They also reported that, when these mice were given a drug called chondroitinase ABC, fear memories were more likely to disappear than for those mice in the control group.


This finding has important therapeutic implications for sufferers of anxiety disorders, as it could allow doctors to erase the fear memories of patients who have had extremely traumatic experiences, such as survivors of war.


In his review for F1000 Medicine, David P. Wolfer said, “The identification of cellular mechanisms that … control the stability of fear memories is extremely important for the development of new and better therapies for anxiety disorders.


Commentating on the research anxiety disorders expert Gregory Quirk, said, “Once we know how perineuronal nets are regulated, it may be possible to … allow fears in adults to be erased by extinction-based therapies.



Gogolla N, Caroni P, Lüthi A, Herry C. Perineuronal nets protect fear memories from erasure. Science. 2009 Sep 4;325(5945):1258-61   [Abstract]


Faculty of 1000 Medicine: evaluations for Gogolla N et al Science 2009 Sep 4 325 (5945)   [Abstract]


Comment:

What is being proposed here is not the erasure of memories for the traumatic event, but disconnecting these from the emotions, particularly fear, subsequently added to them, i.e. fear extinction. The event is still remembered but remembrance no longer triggers a flood of emotions.



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