Proof It’s Possible to Enhance or Suppress Memories
Steve Ramirez (CAS’10), a Boston University neuroscientist fascinated by memory, believes that a small structure in the brain could hold the keys to future therapeutic techniques for treating depression, anxiety, and PTSD, someday allowing clinicians to enhance positive memories or suppress negative ones.
Inside our brains, a cashew-shaped structure called the hippocampus stores the sensory and emotional information that makes up memories, whether they be positive or negative ones. No two memories are exactly alike, and likewise, each memory we have is stored inside a unique combination of brain cells that contain all the environmental and emotional information associated with that memory. The hippocampus itself, although small, comprises many different subregions working in tandem to recall the elements of a specific memory.
Now, in a new paper in Current Biology, Ramirez, a BU College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, and a team of collaborators have shown just how pliable memory is if you know which regions of the hippocampus to stimulate—which could someday enable personalized treatment for people haunted by particularly troubling memories.
“Many psychiatric disorders, especially PTSD, are based on the idea that after there’s a really traumatic experience, the person isn’t able to move on because they recall their fear over and over again,” says Briana Chen, first author of the paper and a Columbia University graduate researcher studying depression.
In their study, Chen and Ramirez, the paper’s senior author, show how traumatic memories—such as those at the root of disorders like PTSD—can become so emotionally loaded. By artificially activating memory cells in the bottom part of the brain’s hippocampus, negative memories can become even more debilitating. In contrast, stimulating memory cells in the top part of the hippocampus can strip bad memories of their emotional oomph, making them less traumatic to remember.
Well, at least if you’re a mouse.
Using a technique called optogenetics, Chen and Ramirez mapped out which cells in the hippocampus were being activated when male mice made new memories of positive, neutral, and negative experiences. A positive experience, for example, could be exposure to a female mouse. In contrast, a negative experience could be receiving a startling but mild electrical zap to the feet. Then, identifying which cells were part of the memory-making process (which they did with the help of a glowing green protein designed to literally light up when cells are activated), they were able to artificially trigger those specific memories again later, using laser light to activate the memory cells.
Their studies reveal just how different the roles of the top and bottom parts of the hippocampus are. Activating the top of the hippocampus seems to function like effective exposure therapy, deadening the trauma of reliving bad memories. But activating the bottom part of the hippocampus can impart lasting fear and anxiety-related behavioral changes, hinting that this part of the brain could be overactive when memories become so emotionally charged that they are debilitating.
That distinction, Ramirez says, is critical. He says that it suggests suppressing overactivity in the bottom part of the hippocampus could potentially be used to treat PTSD and anxiety disorders. It could also be the key to enhancing cognitive skills, “like Limitless,” he says, referencing the 2011 film starring Bradley Cooper in which the main character takes special pills that drastically improve his memory and brain function.
“The field of memory manipulation is still young…. It sounds like sci-fi but this study is a sneak preview of what’s to come in terms of our abilities to artificially enhance or suppress memories,” says Ramirez. Although the study got its start while Chen and Ramirez were both doing research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, its data has been the backbone of the first paper to come out of the new laboratory group that Ramirez established at BU in 2017.
“We’re a long way from being able to do this in humans, but the proof of concept is here,” Chen says. “As Steve likes to say, ‘never say never.’ Nothing is impossible.”
“This is the first step in teasing apart what these [brain] regions do to these really emotional memories…the first step toward translating this to people, which is the holy grail,” says memory researcher Sheena Josselyn, a University of Toronto neuroscientist who was not involved in this study. “[Steve’s] group is really unique in trying to see how the brain stores memories with the goal being to help people…. They’re not just playing around but doing it for a purpose.”
Although mouse brains and human brains are very different, Ramirez, who is also a member of the BU Center for Systems Neuroscience and the Center for Memory and Brain, says that learning how these fundamental principles play out in mice is helping his team map out a blueprint of how memory works in people. Being able to activate specific memories on demand, as well as targeted areas of the brain involved in memory, allows the researchers to see exactly what side effects come along with different areas of the brain being overstimulated.
“Let’s use what we’re learning in mice to make predictions about how memory functions in humans,” he says. “If we can create a two-way street to compare how memory works in mice and in humans, we can then ask specific questions [in mice] about how and why memories can have positive or negative effects on psychological health.”
The Latest on: Memory manipulation
via Google News
The Latest on: Memory manipulation
- Black Box Offers a Mostly Familiar Sci-Fi Tale About Memory Losson October 7, 2020 at 1:00 pm
Sci-fi movies are fond of exploring the intersection of technology and memory — think Total Recall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and both Blade Runner movies, to name a few. With a limited ...
- 'My strongest memory is chaos': A look back at election night 2000on October 5, 2020 at 8:52 am
Bush would be the 43rd president of the United States after a night of chaos in which all the major networks projected Gore the winner, then Bush, and then no one. Election night began a 35-day saga ...
- Combining AI and Nanotechnology to Create Robot-Assisted Molecular Manipulationon October 5, 2020 at 5:15 am
A team of scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich and TU Berlin is working on a project to create an autonomous artificial intelligence system with the ability to pick up and move individual ...
- Port: How can we learn from our mistakes if we erase them?on October 3, 2020 at 4:27 am
As more and more of our media — from journalism to sitcoms to adult cartoons — exists exclusively in a digital format the risk of self-serving manipulation and even censorship is very real.
- The Era Of Big Memory Is Upon Uson September 23, 2020 at 5:07 am
you have to chew on it and bring it back into main memory for manipulation or analysis. A year and a half ago, we told you about a startup called MemVerge that had created a kind of memory hypervisor, ...
- 'I Care a Lot' Exposes the Damning Reality of American Crimeon September 20, 2020 at 5:01 pm
Yet in horrifying irony, she then proceeds to dramatize Jennifer’s memory loss in order to position ... we’ll fall victim to exploitation and manipulation by our government’s actions.
- ProMind Complex Review: Is ProMind Complex Formula Worth It?on September 18, 2020 at 9:09 am
With each passing decade, it seems to be becoming increasingly clear that memory loss doesn’t simply ... periods of time without any chemical manipulation. Some of the core facets of ProMind ...
- How your memory works & 6 ways you can improve iton September 16, 2020 at 3:08 am
but differs from short term memory in that it involves some kind of manipulation or organization of that information. For example, when you meet someone who tells you their name at a party ...
- A Removable Memory Card Is Important For More Than Just Extra Spaceon September 15, 2020 at 2:29 pm
Windows phone doesn’t support the same kind of file manipulation software, so in that respect, a Windows phone with memory card slot would not have helped. But this is especially important on an ...
- Nation State Interference During the US Presidential ‘Pandemic Election’on September 10, 2020 at 6:30 am
The 2020 US Presidential election is shaping up to be one of the most bitterly fought campaigns in modern memory, reaching levels of animosity ... and that means nation states can up their game on ...
via Bing News