Emotional memories in humans may be disrupted using electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) shortly after they are recalled, reports a study published online this week in Nature Neuroscience.
Marijn Kroes and colleagues tested memory performance in 39 depressed patients undergoing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Patients were taught two emotionally unpleasant stories, presented in the form of a slideshow with a voice narrative. A week later, the patients’ memories were cued by presenting a partially covered version of the first slide of the story, and immediately afterwards some of the patients were given ECT. A day later, when the patients were asked to report the events behind the covered portion of the first slide, the authors found that the memory for the recalled events was less accurate in those who had received the ECT, whereas memory for the second, non-recalled story was not affected by this procedure.
These results suggest that ECT can selectively affect emotional memory consolidation in a time-dependent manner, and that it could be used to specifically induce amnesia for aversive or depressive memories.