Read More: EurekAlert! Science News
New York, NY (June 22, 2017) -- Different types of memories stored in the same neuron of the marine snail Aplysia can be selectively erased, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and McGill University and published today in Current Biology. The findings suggest that it may be possible to develop drugs to delete memories that trigger anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) without affecting other important memories of past events. During emotional or traumatic events, multiple memories can become encoded, including memories of any incidental information that is present when the event occurs. In the case of a traumatic experience, the incidental, or neutral, information can trigger anxiety attacks long after the event has occurred, say the researchers. "The example I like to give is, if you are walking in a high-crime area and you take a shortcut through a dark alley and get mugged, and then you happen to see a mailbox nearby, you might get really nervous when you want to mail something later on," says Samuel Schacher, PhD, a professor of neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry at CUMC and co-author of the paper. In the example, fear of dark alleys is an associative memory that provides important information -- e.g., fear of dark alleys -- based on a previous experience. Fear of mailboxes, however, is an incidental, non-associative memory that is not directly related to the traumatic event.