The science of memory impairment is increasingly moving away from fiction. This time, a new optic-neurological system (a light-based technique) has shown that it is possible to “erase” the memories of laboratory mice before they are consolidated in their memory. The research was led by Kyoto University physician Akihiro Goto and published in the journal Science.
By way of a simple analogy, memory works in a similar way to storage in a computer. First a file (information) is received in a specific place and then it is saved in a folder to have it available in the future. That is, memories are acquired and remain in long-term memory in a process called memory consolidation.
Although that is the basic premise, the brain works in a much more complex way, since it works on the basis of 100 billion neurons. These as a whole share electrical and chemical signals with each other at an incredible speed, creating a communication network far superior in speed and connections to any computer.
The increase in neuronal activity -that is, the communication between them- depends on a process called long-term potentiation or LTP. Various studies have pointed out that this process is also the sustenance of learning and memory.
According to the team of neuroscientists at the University of Kyoto, the method consisted of mainly lighting the hippocampus of mice to inhibit cofilin, a protein essential for the synapse. The hippocampus has the function that the memory passes to the long-term memory.
The technique, Goto says, was inspired by the sci-fi movie Men in Black. In Men in Black, agents erase memories with a flash of light. We did something similar, “he said in a statement on EurekaAlert.
During the experiments, the scientists radiated light into the rodents’ brains at two specific times: when they learned a task and during the first sleep after learning. The result, according to the team, was that selective manipulation of LTP in the hippocampus (specifically the CA1 area) caused them to lose memory of the lesson, according to Goto.
“It was surprising that the removal of the local LTP, using directed lighting, clearly erased the memory,” Goto commented in the report.
The team ensures that the results of the study can generate advances against other neuronal abnormalities also related to LTP, such as Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia.
Selective memory modification is a novel finding, since other drugs that alter LTP often have general effects. However, it is still necessary for this same method to be approved in the human population.