Researchers from KU Leuven and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology have managed to erase unpleasant memories in mice using a ‘genetic switch’. Their findings were published in Biological Psychiatry.
Dementia, accidents, or traumatic events can make us lose the memories formed before the injury or the onset of the disease. Researchers from KU Leuven and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology have now shown that some memories can also be erased when one particular gene is switched off.
The team trained mice that had been genetically modified in one single gene: NPTN. This gene, which is investigated by only a few groups in the world, is very important for brain plasticity. In humans, changes in the regulation of the NPTN gene have recently been linked to decreased intellectual abilities and schizophrenia.
In the reported study, the mice were trained to move from one side of a box to the other as soon as a lamp lights up, thus avoiding a foot stimulus. This learning process is called associative learning. Its most famous example is Pavlov’s dog: conditioned to associate the sound of a bell with getting food, the dog starts salivating whenever it hears a bell.
Deactivating one single gene is enough to erase associative memories.