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Scientists Claim Fear Can be Erased from The Brain

Update Date: Sep 21, 2012 08:56 AM EDT

Remember the movie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"? If that movie kept you wishing you could erase a part of your memory, your wish might just come true. Researchers now say, it may be possible to erase newly formed emotional memories from the human brain.

With these findings, researchers from Uppsala University may have made a breakthrough in research on memory and fear.  

When a person gains new knowledge, it is stored in the memory for a long time with the help of a consolidation process, based on the formation of proteins.

When we try to recollect something, our memory becomes unstable for a while and settles down again with another consolidation process. So what exactly is happening is that we are not remembering the incident itself but we remember the last time we thought of that moment. Thus, it is possible to disturb the storage of memory by disrupting the reconsolidation process.

For the study, participants were shown a neutral picture and were given an electric shock simultaneously. This way, the researchers associated fear along with the picture in the brains of the participants.

To activate the fear memory, the picture was again shown to the participants, but with no shock this time. For one group of participants, the researchers disrupted the reconsolidation process with repeated display of pictures. For the control group, the reconsolidation process was allowed to complete before the subjects were shown the same repeated presentations of the picture, Medical Xpress reported.

It was found that the group whose reconsolidation process was disrupted, the fear in them - associated with the pictures - dissipated. This means that with the disruption of reconsolidation process, the storage of incited fear was affected too.

Also, simultaneously, with the help of a MR-scanner, researchers were also able to show that the traces of that memory also disappeared from the part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories.

"These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and fear. Ultimately the new findings may lead to improved treatment methods for the millions of people in the world who suffer from anxiety issues like phobias, post-traumatic stress, and panic attacks," says Thomas Ågren, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Psychology, under the supervision of Professors Mats Fredrikson and Tomas Furmark.

The study was published by the academic journal Science.

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