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Erasing bad memories may be possible

It sounds a little like that movie Men in Black, where government operatives were able to zap people's memories. Johns Hopkins researchers say they may be able to permanently erase bad memories.  

And while they did use some government funding from the National Institutes of Health, it doesn't appear the work is for national security. The researchers say the work in mice holds promise for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

They have figured out that removing a protein from the region of the brain responsible for recalling fear means they can permanently delete traumatic memories. A report appears this week in Science Express.

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"When a traumatic event occurs, it creates a fearful memory that can last a lifetime and have a debilitating effect on a person's life," said Richard L. Huganir, professor and director of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, in a statement.

"Our finding describing these molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in that process raises the possibility of manipulating those mechanisms with drugs to enhance behavioral therapy for such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder."

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That behavioral therapy involves "extinction training," or easing the depth of the emotional response to the bad memories but not completely removing the memory. The researchers say that, combined with protein removal, may mean permanent removal of fear by erasing the memory itself.

They used sound cues to put fear in mice as a test.

"This may sound like science fiction, the ability to selectively erase memories," said Huganir. "But this may one day be applicable for the treatment of debilitating fearful memories in people, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome associated with war, rape or other traumatic events."

Erasing memories sound like a good thing or kind of scary?

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