What if it was possible for scientists to manipulate one’s brain and the emotional power over your psyche? Steve Ramirez, a Boston University neuroscientist, believes that a small brain structure could be important in future therapies. Researchers can treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD based on this. They could allow scientists to suppress negative memories or enhance positive ones.
A cashew-shaped structure in our brains called the hippocampus stores emotional and sensory information making up memories. These could be negative or positive memories. Memories are not usually exactly alike. The brain stores memories inside a combination of brain cells containing all emotional and environmental information associated with the memory. The hippocampus comprises of many different sub-regions working together to recall the elements of a specific memory.
Ramirez and a team of researchers showed how flexible memory is if you know which part of the hippocampus to stimulate. This could one day lead to personalized treatment for those people haunted by certain troubling memories.
When a person goes through a traumatic experience, it is hard to move on. This is because they keep recalling their fears over and over. This idea is the basis of many psychiatric disorders, especially PTSD, according to Briana Chen, first author of the paper.
Ramirez and Chen showed how traumatic memories could become emotionally loaded. Artificially activating memory cells found in the bottom part of the hippocampus leads to negative memories becoming more debilitating. Stimulating memory cells found in the top part of the brain’s hippocampus can rid bad memories of their oomph. This makes them less traumatic to remember.
Ramirez and Chen used a technique known as optogenetics. They used it to map out the cells which got activated in the hippocampus when male mice made new memories. The memories could be of negative, neutral, and negative experiences. A positive memory could be getting exposed to a female mouse. A negative experience could be getting a startling mild electric zap to the feet. They then artificially triggered those exact memories later with the use of laser light to activate those memory cells.
The research revealed how different the roles of the bottom and top parts of the hippocampus are. Activating the top part works just like effective exposure therapy. It deadens the trauma of reliving the bad memories. Activating the bottom part could impart lasting fear and anxiety related changes.
Ramirez said that the distinction is critical. It suggests suppressing overactivity in the bottom part could be used in treating anxiety disorders and PTSD. It could be important in enhancing cognitive abilities.
Chen says that they are a long way from doing this in humans but nothing is impossible. Mice’ brains are different from human brains. However, learning the way these essential principles play out in mice is helpful in mapping out blueprints of how memory works in humans.
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- Artificially Enhancing and Suppressing Hippocampus-Mediated Memories
- Boston University. (2019, May 23). How to enhance or suppress memories: Stimulating different parts of the brain can dial up or down a specific memory’s emotional oomph, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 27, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190523143040.htm