Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Memory Surgery

By Tim Hannan

Recent discoveries about memory modification open the way to erasing traumatic memories.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Many people have memories they would rather not possess. For some, it may be of a particularly embarrassing moment in adolescence; for others, it involves a vivid and terrifying re-experiencing of a traumatic event.

While psychological therapies can assist people to be less troubled by traumatic memories, the possibility of directly modifying their neural mechanisms has undeniable appeal. In the past year or so, a series of studies by MIT researchers has suggested that the notion of memory manipulation may one day be no longer restricted to the realm of sci-fi novels and movies like Inception.

In the first study, published in Nature, Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu sought to locate the specific group of cells in the brains of laboratory mice that could be reliably associated with a specific memory. They employed the novel technique of injecting a gene for a light-sensitive protein into the dentate gyrus, a region in the hippocampal formation of the temporal lobes long known to be part of the memory system. The cells that were active during the creation of the memory produced the protein, and thus became light-sensitive themselves. When viewed under a microscope, the active cells could be easily discriminated from others, suggesting that the researchers had discovered a means of identifying a specific neural memory trace, or engram.

To demonstrate that the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.