IT ADDS new meaning to getting in touch with your inner child. Temporarily returning the brain to a child-like state could help permanently erase a specific traumatic memory. This could help people with post traumatic stress disorder and phobias.
At the Society of Neuroscience conference in San Diego last month researchers outlined the ways in which they have managed to extinguish basic fear memories.
Most methods rely on a behavioural therapy called extinction, in which physicians repeatedly deliver threatening cues in safe environments in the hope of removing fearful associations. While this can alleviate symptoms, in adults the original fear memory still remains. This means it can potentially be revived in the future.
A clue to permanent erasure comes from research in infant mice. With them, extinction therapy completely erases the fear memory, which cannot be retrieved. Identifying the relevant brain changes in rodents between early infancy and the juvenile stage may help researchers recreate aspects of the child-like system and induce relapse-free erasure in people.