Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develop severe anxiety when confronted with a memory of psychological trauma. One possible treatment being studied is known as extinction learning, in which a memory of fear is replaced by one of safety. Drug Discovery & Development tells us about the work of Cristina Alberini at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Albernini and colleagues are attacking PTSD by first doing something that might seem counterintuitive--finding a naturally occurring growth factor in the brain that is associated with actually boosting retention of a memory of fear.
In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, animals treated with insulin-like growth factor (IGF-II) were able to retain the memory of an electric shock for a far longer time than those not treated. "To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of potent memory enhancement via a naturally occurring factor that readily passes through the blood-brain barrier--and thus may hold promise for treatment development," Cristina Alberini is quoted as saying.
Researchers had previously suspected IGF-II plays a role in the process of memory retention within the hippocampus, the brain's memory center. The growth factor is likely part part of the brain's machinery for tissue repair and regeneration. And, as those of us who are not so young anymore have experienced first-hand, it declines with age.
So, how would enhancing a traumatic memory reduce symptoms of PTSD? The researchers say IGF-II might enhance other types of memory, such as those that can be reconditioned through extinction learning. In theory, a dose of IGF-II, along with techniques that replace a bad memory with a good one, could make PTSD therapy longer-lasting.
- read the story in Drug Discovery & Development