Scientists are Able to Use Light to Change Bad Memories into Happy Ones

A magnified part of a mouse's brain where an optic fiber is inserted to switch memories from bad to good. (PHOTO CREDIT: Redondo Et Al.)
A magnified part of a mouse’s brain where an optic fiber is inserted to switch memories from bad to good. (PHOTO CREDIT: Redondo Et Al.)

Memories are often associated with emotions, and these feelings can change through new experiences and over time. Now, using light, scientists have been able to manipulate mice brain cells and turn the animals’ fearful memories into happy ones, according to a new study.

Memories are encoded in groups of neurons that are activated together or in specific patterns, but it is thought that neurons in different brain regions encode different aspects of a memory of an event. For example, the place where an event occurred and the emotion associated with it may be stored in different places.

In the new study, researchers examined whether it is possible to selectively change one part of a memory — the emotion attached to it. They made male mice form fearful memories by giving them painful electrical shocks, or form pleasant memories by letting the animals interact with female mice.

Later, using light to control the activity of neurons (a method called optogenetics), the researchers evoked the fearful memories every time the mice went to a certain corner of their cage, which led the mice to avoid that corner. In mice that had formed pleasant memories, the researchers used those memories to make a certain corner look attractive to the rodents.

In the last step, to reverse the associations between a place and an emotion, the researchers evoked only the “place” part of the fearful memories, while letting the mice interact with female counterparts. As a result, the mice were no longer afraid of that specific corner of the cage.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Discovery News
Bahar Gholipour, LiveScience

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