They found that a small brain protein called neuropeptide S is involved in erasing traumatic responses to adverse memories by working on a tiny group of neurons inside the amygdala where those memories are stored.
"The exciting part of this study is that we have discovered a completely new process that regulates the adverse responses to bad memories," said Rainer Reinscheid, pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences associate professor at UCI.
"These findings can help the development of new drugs to treat conditions in which people are haunted by persistent fears, such as posttraumatic stress disorder or other panic disorders," Reinscheid added.
During the study, researchers exposed mice to situations that caused adverse memories.
The researchers saw that when NPS receptors in amygdala neurons are blocked, the traumatic responses to bad memories persisted longer.
In turn, when researchers treated the mice with compounds activating these receptors, traumatic responses disappeared faster.
The study appears in the July 31 issue of Neuron.