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March 12, 2007

Deleting selective memories

still image from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Remember the 2004 movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet play former lovers who undergo a medical procedure to have their painful memories of each other removed from their brains. A cool movie, but certainly not something that could be done in real life. Right?

Well, hang on bucko, because that exact idea is now one step closer to reality. According to a new paper in Nature Neuroscience, researchers have been able to remove one specific painful memory from rats while seemingly not affecting a different painful memory.

The experiment begins...as so many neurology experiments do...by shocking rats. This time, the rats are zapped while hearing one of two different musicial tones. As you expect, after a while the rats associate the tones with pain, and become agitated when hearing either tone.

They then gave the rats something called U0126, a drug that induces limited amnesia. While under the influence of that drug, they played just one of the tones and shocked the rats some more. A day later (after the drug had worn off) the rats were no longer scared of the tone that accompanied the shocks they received while they were drugged. Somehow, UO126 broke the link between the sound and painful memory associated with it.

This isn't exactly something you're going to be able to pick up at your corner drugstore any time soon (UO126 is not approved for even experimental use on humans) but scientists are already excited about the possibility of using it on patients with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at March 12, 2007 04:37 PM