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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Can you change memories?

Maybe, according to a new study that has just been published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Apparently a group of scientists at UCLA were able to do just so by "erasing" a traumatic memory in a marine snail by inhibiting PKM - a protein kinase associated with memory. This feast was in part possible because the researchers were able to target a single synapse - which is impressive but might be a bit hard to replicate in humans.

However, assuming that somehow a technique could be developed, the possibility of erasing memories raises a number of difficult ethical questions. We are our memories, with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Erasing a part of who we are might have unintended consequences - changing our view of the world, others and ourselves.

Traumatic memories, as painful as they might be, served a role in the individual's make-up. Let's assume that somehow they resulted in a cautious, think before you commit, double check everything modus operandi. Let further assume that at the push of a button the traumatic memory miraculously evaporates. But then what? Should one continue to erase (e.g. suspiciousness, double checking etc.)? If so, when will one stop - as in all likelihood there are consequences to consequences?

At some point the process could result into a significant erasure of one's persona, and a decision will need to be made about stopping and integrating whatever it might be left (consequences wise).

The idea is that integration is necessary regardless of what and how much one erases. But then, why take the risk of unforeseen and possibly dangerous changes, instead of targeting integration for whatever is traumatic from the beginning of the process?

© Copyright Adrian Preda, M.D.

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