Research highlight

Erasing fearful memories

Nature Neuroscience

February 16, 2009

Scientists have discovered a way of preventing reactivation of fear memories in humans, reports a paper online this week in Nature Neuroscience. The method, using beta-adrenergic receptor blockers, could be useful for weakening or erasing emotional memory of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Studies in animal models have shown that fear memories can change when recalled, a process known as reconsolidation, and that this reconsolidation stage is vulnerable to beta-adrenergic receptor blockers. Merel Kindt and colleagues did a double-blind study in humans, where subjects learned to associate pictures of spiders with a mild shock, creating a fearful memory. Later, they were given a beta-blocker, propranolol, or a placebo. Merel Kindt and colleagues found that the group given propranolol had a greatly decreased fear response to the spider pictures 24 hours later. Strikingly, the propranolol-treated subjects showed no reinstatement of the fear response, suggesting that their fear memory was completely erased.

doi: 10.1038/nn.2271

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