hippocampus

For a long time, memories linger in the mind of a person, which can weaken when the memory is especially traumatic. Now, scientists say the brain can be stimulated to enhance memory-related positive emotions and suppress negative ones, potentially making traumatic memories less powerful.

These findings, published in the Current Biology journal, could be used in the future, among other conditions, to develop effective treatments for people with PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

The Study

The hippocampus stores all the information that makes up the memories of a person, whether good or bad. This cashew-shaped region of the brain contains many subregions, all of which work together to create each specific memory’s different elements.

“Many psychiatric disorders, especially PTSD, are based on the idea that the person is unable to move on after a truly traumatic experience because they recall their fear over and over again,” Study Author Briana Chen of Columbia University explained in a news release.

In the new study, researchers suggested that if they know the hippocampus regions to stimulate, these memories can actually be manipulated.

The researchers used optogenetics to identify the hippocampus cells that become activated when male mice make positive, negative, or neutral memories to reach their conclusions. They can stimulate these same cells by finding the cells involved in the memory-making process to either suppress or enhance the memory-related feelings.

Findings have shown that the hippocampus ‘ top and bottom parts seem to play various roles in memories. Stimulating the memory cells at the bottom of the hippocampus can cause fear and behavioral changes related to anxiety, while those at the top of the hippocampus appear to function as exposure therapy as it reduces the emotional trauma of bad memories and makes them more bearable to remember.

Potential For Future Treatments

Study author Steve Ramirez of Boston University explained that their research suggests that when memories become too emotionally loaded and debilitating, the lower part of the hippocampus could be overactive. Treatments for memory-related conditions such as PTSD could eventually be developed in this part of the brain by suppressing overactivity.

Looking even further ahead, Ramirez said that in the film Limitless, this part of the brain could eventually be used to enhance cognitive abilities in the same way that pills are used to improve memory and brain function.

“It sounds like sci-fi, but this study is a sneak preview of our ability to artificially enhance or suppress memories,” Ramirez said.