Debilitating painful memories and addictions may one day be erased without harming other brain functions, thanks to the discovery of a molecule that preserves complex memories.
The breakthrough discovery of the molecule PKMzeta by researchers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center indicates that there exist molecules that separately perform the storage of complex memories and their processing with the brain cells, just like a computer that uses a hard disk to store information and the central processing unit (CPU) to process it.
The researchers say that PKMzeta specifically stores complex, high-quality memories that provide detailed information about an animal's location, fears, and actions.
It, however, does not control the ability to process or express this information, they add.
They deduce from this finding that such PKMzeta erasures can be developed as would be helpful in knocking off specific debilitating memories, without harming the computational function of the brain.
"The work published in PLoS reveals that PKMzeta is a general storage mechanism for different types of memory content but, fortunately, that PKMzeta stores only high-quality memories, the kind that provide detailed information rather than general abilities," says Dr. Andre A. Fenton, associate professor of physiology and pharmacology.
"If further work confirms this view we can expect to one day see therapies based on PKMzeta memory erasure. Negative memory erasing not only could help people forget painful experiences, but might be useful in treating depression, general anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress, and addictions," he adds.
Dr. Todd C. Sacktor, professor of physiology and pharmacology and of neurology, said that the research "shows that PKMzeta is fundamental for storing many different forms of memory, which previously has been viewed as potentially mediated by distinct mechanisms."