Could veterans of war, rape victims and other people who have seen horrific crimes someday have the traumatic memories that haunt them weakened in their brains? In a new study, UCLA life scientists report a discovery that may make the reduction of such memories a reality.
“I think we will be able to alter memories someday to reduce the trauma from our brains,” said the study’s senior author, David Glanzman, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology.
Glanzman, a cellular neuroscientist, and his colleagues report that they have eliminated, or at least substantially weakened, a long-term memory in both the marine snail known as Aplysia and neurons in a Petri dish. The researchers say they gaining important insights into the cell biology of long-term memory.
They discovered that the long-term memory for sensitization in the marine snail can be erased by inhibiting the activity of a specific protein kinase — a class of molecules that modifies proteins by chemically adding to them a phosphate (an inorganic chemical), which changes the proteins’ structure and activity. The protein kinase is called PKM (protein kinase M), a member of the class known as protein kinase C (PKC), which is associated with memory.
The research has important potential implications for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as drug addiction, in which memory plays an important role, and perhaps Alzheimer’s disease and other long-term memory disorders.