In a few years you might have a pill to help you forget your bad breakup just the way Jim Carey did in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With a high dose of just one enzyme, scientists can now erase very specific memories while you're in the act of recalling them. The enzyme known as CaMKII is linked to learning and memory, and Georgia neuroscientist Joe Z. Tsien and his team used it to induce extremely targeted memory-erasure in mice. Tsien thinks the process might help humans lay traumatic memories to rest.
The researchers tested mice by shocking them while the mice heard a specific tone. They evaluated whether the mice remembered the shock by watching to see whether the mouse froze in fear upon hearing the tone again, or upon revisiting the chamber where it had been shocked. After being dosed with CaMKII while they recalled the fearful memories, the mice ceased to fear the tones and chamber. In a paper to be published tomorrow in scientific journal Neuron, Tsien proves that these memories weren't just temporarily blocked by the enzyme, but erased. No memories other than the targeted ones appeared to have been impaired.
Given the fact that so many war veterans often suffer from reoccurring traumatic memory replays after returning home, our report of selective erasure of fear memories in an inducible and rapid way suggests the existence of molecular paradigm(s) under which traumatic memories can be erased or degraded while preserving other memories in the brain.
Of course there might be nefarious applications of this memory-erasing procedure as well. Soldiers who fear war could be made to un-fear it, and people could be induced to forget political or family ties. In fact, once memory is malleable in such a granular way, people could literally give themselves personality reboots. Imagine what you would be like if you didn't have to remember that horrible childhood, or abusive boyfriend, or that you wanted to vote for the pro-science candidate in the election.
Inducible and Selective Erasure of Memories in the Mouse Brain via Chemical-Genetic Manipulation [via Neuron]