Erased Memories In A Flash Of Light
Erasing memories with a flash of light?
(Optogenetics explained in a short video)
[R]esearchers in California have moved a step closer to making it a reality. They used light to erase specific memories in mice, and proved a basic theory of how different parts of the brain work together to retrieve episodic memories. The technique, known as optogenetics, pioneered by Karl Diesseroth at Stanford University, is a new way to manipulate and study nerve cells using light. The techniques are rapidly becoming the standard method for investigating brain function. Kazumasa Tanaka, Brian Wiltgen and colleagues at UC Davis applied the technique to test a long-standing idea about memory retrieval.
‘The theory is that learning involves processing in the cortex, and the hippocampus reproduces this pattern of activity during retrieval, allowing you to re-experience the event,’ Wiltgen said. If the hippocampus is damaged, patients can lose decades of memories. But this model has been difficult to test directly, until the arrival of optogenetics. Wiltgen and Tanaka used mice genetically modified so that when nerve cells are activated, they both fluoresce green and express a protein that allows the cells to be switched off by light. They were therefore able both to follow exactly which nerve cells in the cortex and hippocampus were activated in learning and memory retrieval, and switch them off with light directed through a fiber-optic cable.
Science fiction movie buffs of course remember an earlier reference to the idea that you could erase memories with a flash of light. The neuralizer, a neural neutralizer, was one of the great props from the 1997 film Men in Black.
(Men in Black)
Selective memory erasure was introduced to science fiction fans in 1966, by Philip K. Dick, in his remarkable short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale:
Someone, probably at a government military-sciences lab, erased his conscious memories...
I seem to remember several stories about memory erasure...
- Amnesia Drugs: Bad Memories Blocked
- Memory-Erasing Chemical
- Selective Memory Deletion In Mice
- Tetris Reduces Emotional Scars
- Can Brains Erase Memories?
- Memory Erasure Thanks To Snails
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