Using a flash of light to erase and restore memory may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but a new study suggests otherwise. Research has found that memories are able to be destroyed and restored in rats using an optical laser. Researchers hope their findings will lead to cures for phobias, post traumatic stress disorder, and even dementia.
Restoring Memory With Light
A research team from the University of California in San Diego found that they were able to switch a memory off and then restore it again using optical lasers. The study, which used rats as subjects, were testing their theory that memories are created, retained and recalled through nerve connections in the brain. By stimulating those nerves, either strengthening or weakening the connection, researchers could remove or restore a specific memory.
To conduct the study, researchers shined an optical laser and delivered an electrical shock to the rat’s foot. Once the rat associated the laser with the shock, scientists used low frequency, memory-erasing pulses to stimulate the same nerves, and the rats stopped showing signs of fear which suggests the painful memory had been erased. To restore the memory, researchers used a high frequency blast and observed that the rats responded with fear even though their feet had not been shocked, suggesting that the lost memory was reactivated.
One researcher, Dr. Sadegh Nabavi, said: “We can cause an animal to have fear and then not have fear and then to have fear again by stimulating the nerves at frequencies that strengthen or weaken the synapses.”
Weakened Synapses in Dementia Patients
The implications of the findings are far reaching. From erasing traumatic memories causing post traumatic stress disorder to curing phobias, this study has the potential to change lives. For dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients, the study may be able to restore memories by strengthening synapses weakened by beta amyloid proteins.
Professor Roberto Manilow, senior researcher and professor of neurosciences said,
“We have shown that the damaging products that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients can weaken synapses in the same way that we weakened synapses to remove a memory. This research could suggest ways to intervene in the process.”
Most importantly, the study offers an improved understanding of memory which could help doctors take more control of the memory creating and restoration process.
What do you think of the study’s results? Could these findings change how we treat dementia and Alzheimer’s? Share your thoughts in the comments below.