A hurricane, a car accident, a roadside bomb, a rape — extreme stress is more common than you might think, with an estimated 50 to 60 percent of Americans experiencing it at some point in their lives. About 8 percent of that group will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. They will have flashbacks and nightmares. They will feel amped up, with nerves on a permanent state of high alert. They won’t be able to forget.
MIT researchers find a drug that helps erase traumatic memories in mice.
For years, neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai has been unraveling the brain circuits that underlie memory, searching for approaches that might be helpful in treating Alzheimer’s disease. In 2007, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist identified an experimental drug that could restore lost memories in mice. Lately, she has been wondering whether that kind of drug might be useful to help people forget traumatic events that cause fear and anxiety.
In a study published Thursday in the journal Cell, Tsai and colleagues used a single dose of the drug, called an HDAC inhibitor, to help mice extinguish a fearful memory of a traumatic event that took place in the distant past.
By Carolyn Y. Johnson / Globe Staff
New study identifies drug that could improve treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder.
Nearly 8 million Americans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition marked by severe anxiety stemming from a traumatic event such as a battle or violent attack.
Many patients undergo psychotherapy designed to help them re-experience their traumatic memory in a safe environment so as to help them make sense of the events and overcome their fear. However, such memories can be so entrenched that this therapy doesn’t always work, especially when the traumatic event occurred many years earlier.
MIT neuroscientists have now shown that they can extinguish well-established traumatic memories in mice by giving them a type of drug called an HDAC2 inhibitor, which makes the brain’s memories more malleable, under the right conditions. Giving this type of drug to human patients receiving psychotherapy may be much more effective than psychotherapy alone, says Li-Huei Tsai, director of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT
Discovery of a gene essential for memory extinction could lead to new PTSD treatments.
If you got beat up by a bully on your walk home from school every day, you would probably become very afraid of the spot where you usually met him. However, if the bully moved out of town, you would gradually cease to fear that area.
Neuroscientists call this phenomenon “memory extinction”: Conditioned responses fade away as older memories are replaced with new experiences.
A new study from MIT reveals a gene that is critical to the process of memory extinction. Enhancing the activity of this gene, known as Tet1, might benefit people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by making it easier to replace fearful memories with more positive associations, says Li-Huei Tsai, director of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.