As researchers learn more about how memory works, the possibility of targeted amnesia becomes more feasible. Scientists recently succeeded in wiping out a nasty memory from the mind of a genetically-engineered mouse. By altering the activity of a specific enzyme, they affected a mouse's ability to recall the experience of being shocked. The team from the Medical College of Georgia and the East China Normal University reported their findings in the science journal Neuron. From Science news:
Insight from such experiments may one day lead to therapies that can erase traumatic memories for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or wipe clean drug-associated cues that lead addicts to relapse.
"We should never think of memories as being fixed," says Howard Eichenbaum, a neuroscientist at Boston University. "They are constantly being renovated and restructured."
Eichenbaum is not convinced that Tsien and his colleagues have erased the mice's memories. Altering a memory so that it can't be recalled under certain circumstances might produce similar results, he says. "We never know for sure that it's really gone," he says.
But if chemicals can help someone specifically forget painful or traumatic memories, it may be irrelevant whether the memories are entirely erased or are just altered beyond recognition, Eichenbaum says.