Memories Can Now Be Created — And Erased — in a Lab

Eternal Sunshine-style memory wiping coming to a doctor’s office near you?

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Two recently published studies describe scientists implanting fabricated memories and selectively erasing unwanted memories in the brains of lab rodents.

Researchers at UC Irvine have found that by playing a particular tone while stimulating the release of a brain chemical associated with memory formation they can artificially “condition” a response to the tone in lab rats, which is recalled and observable the following day. Fabricated memories have the same features as naturally-occurring memories, Science Daily reports, “including long-term retention.” Researchers say this represents “the first evidence that memories can be created by direct cortical manipulation.”

Fortunately for the test subjects, scientists on the other side of the country may have found a way to undo the work of memory implanters (and perhaps the whole unpleasant experience of being a lab rat).

Researchers at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have been able to pinpoint memories in mice and rats and eliminate them without affecting other memories, according to Science Daily. The process involves inhibiting a chemical associated with memory formation during “the maintenance phase” of memory formation. As a result of this intervention, the memories of meth-addicted rodents associated with methamphetamine were “immediately and persistently” lost.

“Not unlike in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we’re looking for strategies to selectively eliminate evidence of past experiences related to drug abuse or a traumatic event,” said Courtney Miller, who led the project. “Our study shows we can do just that in mice — wipe out deeply engrained drug-related memories without harming other memories.”

[Science Daily]

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