Jun 15, 2018

Traumatic Memory Study Reveals How Our Darkest Fears Can Be Rewritten

Posted by in category: neuroscience

Deep-seated fears, like the memory of a death or war-time trauma, can be crippling. They’re also notoriously hard to study and treat, says neuroscientist Ossama Khalaf, Ph.D. But finally, we’re making progress: In a Science paper published Thursday, Khalaf and his team show new evidence suggesting that fearful memories that dwell deep in the brain’s neural circuitry don’t have to be a burden forever. It’s possible, the paper suggests, that they can be rewired.

The paper is rooted in the science of engrams — the idea that memories leave a physical trace in the brain. In this case, Khalaf, a researcher at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and his team traced deep-seated fear memories in rats back to the activity of specific neurons. They found that the way those neurons fire — and thus the fearful memory they encode — can be reprogrammed.

“In our study, we are providing the first experimental evidence that fear memory attenuation is mediated by the re-engagement of the original fear re-writing it towards safety,” Khalaf tells Inverse via email.

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