Researchers can erase traumatic memories in snails … humans next?

While those who study Alzheimer's disease look for ways in which memories can be retained, those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would really like some memories to just go away--or, at least become dulled. Scientists at UCLA, writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, say they have successfully erased or weakened a long-term memory. And while the experiment was a success in a snail and in neurons in a petri dish, researchers say it is still a first step along the road to finding and eliminating horrific memories of rape, war, violent crime and other causes of PTSD.

"I think we will be able to alter memories someday to reduce the trauma from our brains," David Glanzman, the study's senior author, said in a news release.

What they did was inhibit the activity of a specific protein kinase called PKM (protein kinase M), which is associated with memory, in an Aplysia, a marine snail that has a simple nervous system and possesses simple forms of learning. This kind of snail has heightened sensitivity to the environment because, well, it's a rough world out there for a little snail, and it always needs to be on the alert for predators. Still, they turned off PKM, and the snail failed to cringe in a spot that was once painful.

That's fine for a snail, but aren't human brains a little more complex? Of course, said Glanzman, but the cellular and molecular processes are similar between snails and humans. "The fundamental mechanisms of learning and memory are identical, as far as we can tell," Glanzman said.

The research, he said, has applications not only in PTSD, but also in drug addiction, which also involves memory.

- read the release from UCLA
- Reuters filed a story
- and here's the abstract in The Journal of Neuroscience