Monday, 16 February 2009

Blood drug can ‘erase painful memories’

Painful and traumatic experiences and memories can be erased by a high blood pressure drug, Dutch research revealed recently. Scientists discovered they can be altered during ‘reconsolidation’, or when the memories are recalled.

Medics and psychiatrists see new possibilities of treating people who were traumatised by terrorist attacks, natural disasters or wars. A trial involving human volunteers has given strong support to the theory. A team of Dutch scientists and researchers artificially created a fearful memory by giving 60 participants a light electric shock, delivered to the wrists, every time they saw a picture of a spider. 24 hours later the volunteers were shown the spider pictures again and they had a "startle" response - a measure of fear –which was assessed by testing eye blink reactions. Volunteers turned out to be much less disturbed by the spider pictures after they were shown the pictures. Since the spider fear seen in the initial experiment did not return to treated participants, the effect seems to be permanent. Administering the beta-blocker drug propranolol (normally used to treat high blood pressure) before reactivation of the fearful memory led to a marked reduction in the startle response.

The findings, reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, raise the possibility of a new approach to tackling emotional problems and post-traumatic stress disorder. Professor Merel Kindt, the project’s leader at the University of Amsterdam, wrote: "Millions of people suffer from emotional disorders and the relapse of fear, even after successful treatment. Our findings may have important implications for the understanding and treatment of persistent and self-perpetuating memories in individuals suffering from emotional disorders."

(,,, Nature Neuroscience magazine)