Sometimes in one’s life, there are moments that you may wishes to forget. For the more than 7.7 million patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, this wish could not be more apparent.
With researchers long trying to find techniques and medications to help mitigate some of the effects for those with PTSD, scientists at Stanford University think they’ve developed a way to manipulate these fears without having to dredge up the painful memories as some techniques currently require.
The researchers announced their findings a study with mice at the at the Society for Neuroscience, according to Nature. They believe their research could ultimately lead to an ability to erase memories, or at least the negative response to certain memories, while a patient is sleeping.
Nature states that some therapy to help patients face their fears include repeatedly recalling a memory in a “safe” environment where a psychiatrist or other physician can help them begin to control the effects of triggers that call up the painful thoughts. Lead Author Asay Rolls is reported as saying this technique can lead to PTSD relapse as patients might begin to associate the positive effects with being in the psychiatrist’s office.
In her team’s research, Rolls trained mice to fear the smell of jasmine. Mice were conditioned to fear electrical shocks to their feet upon smelling the chemical, even when no shocks were administered. Some mice in the study continued receiving shocks. Others not receiving shocks eventually overcame their fear, but the researchers found when placed in a different cage, they relapsed at the scent. A third treatment group was given a drug that would block production of a protein in an area of the brain that stores traumatic memories — the basolateral amygdala. While sleeping, the mice were exposed to the jasmine. When the mice were awake, the researchers saw reduced fear when exposed to the chemical — even when they were transported to different cages.
Nature reports University of Michigan sleep researcher Gina Poe saying she thinks the drug is preventing the memory from being “re-stored in the same way as it was before.”
“The idea that you can actually erase memories during sleep, that you can manipulate them,” Rolls said, according to Nature. “It’s exciting.”
As other scientists are calling this research “promising,” with further studies the team could conceivably create a pill or medication including the protein blocker used in the mice study that could be paired with PTSD treatment.
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