What if you could forget bad memories simply by popping a pill? We're not there yet, but new findings reported by researchers at MIT suggest that we've moved one step closer.
The scientists say they have identified a gene that plays a critical role in "memory extinction," the process by which old memories are replaced by new ones. If a way can be found to amplify the activity of this gene, called Tet1, it could lead to new treatments for addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the researchers.
For the study, the researchers compared learning behavior of mice with the Tet1 gene to similar mice in whom the gene was knocked out. Both groups were trained to fear a particular cage when given a mild electric shock each time they were placed inside.
The "knockout" mice learned to associate the cage with the shock, just like the normal mice. But when the researchers put the mice back in the same cage without delivering the shock, the two groups behaved differently.
What happened? The mice with the normal Tet1 gene lost their fear of the cage, because their memory of being shocked had been replaced by new information. The knockout mice were still traumatized by the experience of having been shocked.
“They don’t relearn properly,” study co-author Andrii Rudenko, an MIT post-doc, said in a written statement. “They’re kind of getting stuck, and cannot extinguish the old memory.”
Now, the researchers think that if they can find a way to boost the activity of the Tet1 gene, it might be possible to help people suffering from addiction as well as PTSD.
"We think the most likely way to boost Tet1's activity would be to use some drug: a type of pharmacological activator," Rudenko told HuffPost Science in an email, adding that "such an activator still needs to be identified."
The study was published in the journal Neuron on Wednesday.
(Hat tip, Gizmodo)