Page last updated at 02:06 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 03:06 UK

US scientists 'erase mice memory'

By Matt McGrath
BBC science reporter

Laboratory technician holding a mouse (file photo: Science Photo Library)
Scientists say it may be possible to make a pill to wipe painful memories

Scientists in the US say they have developed the ability to selectively wipe out uncomfortable memories.

In experiments with mice, researchers from the Medical College of Georgia were able to eliminate memories without any damage to the rodents' brains.

They suggested that the technique which works on a particular protein in the brain could, one day, be used to help humans overcome traumatic events.

However, the chief scientist said this was "years or even decades away".

Memories, even painful ones, are an important part of the learning process but for some people recalling traumatic events can be extremely damaging to their lives.

Scientists at the Medical College of Georgia say they have found a molecular mechanism that can rapidly remove specific memories.

Traumatic memories

Working with mice, the researchers found that a particular protein has a crucial role in the formation of memories.

Making the mice over-produce this protein while recalling a specific and painful event caused the memory to be completely eliminated.

The scientists say that in the long-term it should be possible to develop a pill that wipes out traumatic and fearful memories in humans.

Dr Joe Tsien, of the Brain and Behaviour Discovery Institute in Georgia said: "First of all I should emphasise the methodology is not applicable to the human clinical situation yet.

"However, it does suggest molecular paradigms which we can explore to perhaps achieve the same kind of effects in humans - but those are probably years or decades away."

Dr Tsien said the technique might one day be applied to war veterans who "often suffer from reoccurring traumatic memory replays after returning home".


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