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Surprising Science

Can Traumatic Memories Be Erased?

In a new study, U.C.L.A. life scientists report that veterans of war, rape victims and other witnesses to horrific crimes could have the traumatic memories that haunt them weakened in their brains.

What’s the Latest Development?

A team of U.C.L.A. researchers, led by neurobiology professor David Glanzman, has eliminated, or at least substantially weakened, the long-term memory of marine snails. As a result, Dr. Glanzman says: “I think we will be able to alter memories someday to reduce the trauma from our brains.” After the snails received electric shocks to their tails, scientists measured the reflexive contraction that occurred when the tails were simply touched, without administering a shock. After inhibiting a specific protein in the snails’ brains, the team observed there was no reflexive contraction—the snails had forgotten they were shocked. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Were it possible to erase our most traumatic memories, would we choose to erase them? Sufferers of post traumatic stress disorder—veterans of war, rape victims and other people who have seen horrific crimes—might one day free themselves of memory’s burden. In addition, Glanzman’s research into the brains of other mammals could prove relevant to treating drug addiction, in which memory plays an important role, Alzheimer’s disease and other long-term memory disorders. “We have captured the memory in the dish; now we have to figure out a way to target the memories in human brains,” said Glanzman.


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