manipulating memory (from Tech Review)

manipulating memory (from Tech Review) - May/June2009...

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May/June 2009 Manipulating Memory Drugs that alter traumatic recollections offer new hope for treating anxiety disorders. They could also change the way we think about memory. By Emily Singer For psychologist Alain Brunet, the case is still astonishing. When Patrick Moreau first  came into his office suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the Canadian  soldier, who had served as a United Nations peacekeeper in Bosnia, could hardly bear  to recount the details of the day he was taken hostage in 1993. The memory--of kneeling  on the ground with his hands on his head, legs shaking, a stark line of trees across the  sky--aroused crippling fear that felt as fresh as it had 15 years before. The glimpse of a  particular tree line through his windshield was enough to bring the memory rushing back,  giving him such violent shakes that he would have to pull off the road. But six months after participating in Brunet's clinical trial, Moreau no longer meets the  diagnostic criteria for PTSD. He still experiences some flashbacks, but they are less  frequent and less intense. He can now talk calmly and openly about what happened.  And all he did was take a blood-pressure drug after writing down the details of the  traumatic experience. "It seemed like science fiction," says Brunet, a clinical psychologist at McGill University  and the Douglas Institute in Montreal. "If someone is traumatized, you ask them to recall  the memory, give them a pill, and the [emotional] strength of the memory is weakened."  The details of the trauma remain intact, but the emotional component of the memory  appears to dissipate. Although larger studies are needed to assess the potential benefits  of the treatment, preliminary findings are promising. Brunet has successfully treated  PTSD not only in soldiers like Moreau but also in survivors of rapes and car accidents.  "They are matter-of-fact," he says. "When we ask them whether they have been thinking  about the trauma, they raise their shoulders and say, 'Eh, I am not thinking about it so  much.' It's like it's no longer an issue." Brunet's potentially transformative treatment is based in part on a surprising  experimental observation: the simple act of calling a memory to mind makes it  vulnerable to alteration. Indeed, the right drug given at the right time can make parts of it  disappear altogether. If different drugs are delivered to specific parts of the brain, lab  animals will explore cages they've been conditioned to fear, drink fluids once associated  with certain sickness, and ignore sights and sounds that previously led them to expect 
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This note was uploaded on 03/15/2012 for the course PHIL 262g taught by Professor Yaffe during the Spring '06 term at USC.

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manipulating memory (from Tech Review) - May/June2009...

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