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article imageOp-Ed: Breakthrough — MIT finds new way of managing memories for PTSD

By Paul Wallis     Aug 29, 2014 in Health
Cambridge - A new MIT study has found that it’s actually possible to manage bad memories using the mechanics of a process called “reconsolidation.”The process involves re-configuring memories, using the mechanics of reconsolidation to change them.
Reconsolidation is the functional part of accessing memory, and it’s a very malleable process, according to research findings.
"Recalling a memory is not like playing a tape recorder," said Susumu Tonegawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led one of the studies. "It's a creative process."
The MIT team decided to see how creative. They gave male mice a small electric shock when the animals wandered into one part of a cage, creating a memory linking that place to pain. In a different part, mice got to cavort with females, so they remembered that spot quite fondly.
The mice had been engineered so specific brain neurons could be activated with light, a technique called optogenetics. Using lasers, the scientists reactivated the where, what and when of the memories, which are encoded in the hippocampus.
They then reversed the process:
While the shock memory was active and labile, the mice got to play with females. While the memory of socializing was active, they got a shock.
The reversal of memory associations worked as predicted, using reconsolidation as the “editing process” of memory. This work follows on from a lot of classic studies, notably various forms of aversion therapy, and the proof of success is highly significant for creating methods of managing severe trauma.
Human memory processes are quite similar. There are huge ramifications in treatment of human memories, notably PTSD and other serious cases of traumatic memory.
Note: While the idea of reversing pleasant memories may seem perverse in the extreme, these reversals were necessary to confirm basic principles of memory processing and reconsolidation. This was effectively a control, rather than “mad science” at work.
There’s been a lot of research in the field of reconsolidation. The range of trauma in modern society and the PTSD epidemic have made “memory management” a big ticket item. In one case, it was found that the gas xenon “impairs reconsolidation of fear memories” in rats. The theory is that the gas can help manage trauma, reducing the reconsolidation factor in stress-related conditions.
The significance of reconsolidation treatments for PTSD
PTSD is a very tough, broad spectrum condition related to extreme stress. Early research into PTSD indicated that some behaviors were inverted, some off-key, and that stress responses were common, regardless of actual situations.
Reconsolidation may well be a way of managing the highly destructive, stress-loaded effects of PTSD. The memory component in PTSD is a baseline trauma which acts as a disruptive mechanism. It has been suggested that memory phenomena actively impede and sabotage recovery, too, causing additional trauma, making memory management a high priority for treatment.
If reconsolidation is effective, it can also be applied selectively, managing trauma case-specifically. This is important — not all PTSD cases are the same. “PTSD” is a descriptor of a condition, but each case is different.
This process may allow psychiatrists and psychologists to define specific traumas and treat them according to the requirements of individual cases. A bad memory may be minimized and/or have its degree of trauma reduced. That would be a huge improvement on the current situation of rogue memories and stresses triggering violent episodes and irrational, sometimes even inverted, behavior and emotional conditions.
This may also be a way of managing other stress-related conditions which are related to specific traumas. It’s too early to say the problem has been solved, but the methods of possible treatment are becoming clearer.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Mit, Ptsd, memory reconsolidation, Stress Management, PTSD research
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