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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mouse Mind? MIT Research Shows Promise for PTSD

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Experiment Shows Brain Rewiring Possible in Mice Suffering from Painful Memories

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious mental health condition affecting 7.7 million adults in the U.S.  The condition is characterized by painful flashbacks, bad dreams, and a “flight-or-fight” response in affected individuals.  It’s most common to hear about veterans who return from war and suffer from PTSD, but others may have PTSD because of their genetic makeup, having other mental health conditions, or experiencing other types of traumatic events such as rape or child abuse.  Up utnil this point, ehalth professionals have suggested a good support group, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications, and psychotherapy to treat the disorder.  However, new research on mice shows promise for literally getting to the root of the problem: morphing painful memories into positive ones.

Mice Show Malleability of Memory

Researchers at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently conducted research on mice where they first shocked male mice with electricity to form a “bad memory” when they move into one part of a cage.  In a different part of the cage, the male mice were allowed to cavort with female mice, thereby creating a pleasurable memory associated with the cage.  However, while the mice were still cavorting with the female mice, they were again given a small electric shock.  That small movement changed their brain chemistry so that the memory of the shock became connected to neurons in the brain responsible for encoding pleasure and the cavorting connected to the neurons responsible for pain in the brain.  The researchers were able to rewire the brain, they note, because memories are not like “tape recorders” where the mice simply play back a memory.  Instead, remembering is a creative process and memories are very labile.

Research Shows Promise for Humans Because of Similarity With Mice

Although more research is needed before anything could be applied to humans with PTSD, the researchers are hopeful because of the human memory’s similarity with mice’s memory.  Apparently, the circuits of the human brain are very similar to mice.  However, some clinical psychologists are concerned about the ethical implications of using such research on humans in the future.  They argue that it is dangerous to start toying with the memories of humans and that they are certain human memories are much more complex than those of mice.  While that might be true, the research is interesting nevertheless.