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06/05/2017 / By Isabelle Z.
Are there any bad memories in your life that you wish you could simply erase? Researchers might have found a way to do exactly that thanks to the discovery of the enzyme in the brain that plays a pivotal role in storing long-term memories. They believe that this enzyme could be targeted in order to essentially wipe distressing memories out of the minds of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, like many things that sound too good to be true, this development is raising red flags left and right.
Scientists have long known that creating new memories and storing old ones involve the creation of proteins in the synapse, where two brain cells meet. For this process to be successful, genes must be expressed in the nucleus of the cell, and this is where a key enzyme can turn genes on or off as new memories are formed. It’s also believed that this enzyme, which is known as ACSS2, plays a role in the memory impairment that is seen in neurodegenerative disorders.
In the study, the researchers found that lowering ACSS2 levels in mice reduced the expression of memory genes, thereby stopping the formation of long-term memories. Mice who had reduced enzyme levels showed no interest in a ball they saw the previous day, whereas those with normal levels of the enzyme were interested in the ball.
Now the researchers are hoping to use this knowledge to stop traumatic memories from forming in people with PTSD simply by blocking the brain’s ACSS2. This might sound like a good idea to those of us who are haunted by some sort of trauma, but there’s also the potential for this to be used for more sinister reasons.
For example, what’s to stop an agency like the CIA from erasing highly inconvenient memories from people’s minds? The police state could use it as a way to deal with people who it deems to be “anti-establishment.” A journalist who uncovers damning evidence about something like vaccines or GMOs could easily be made to forget that information before they are able to report on it. The possibilities are as endless as they are disturbing.
Of course, there’s also the fact that some of our bad memories likely serve a very good purpose. If we erase our memories of mistakes we’ve made, for example, what will stop us from repeating them later? If you wiped the memory of being stalked by someone, the next time you encounter that person, you might even invite them into your house!
This approach is also unnecessary if their stated goal is merely to help the traumatized and there are no ulterior motives at play here. PTSD sufferers can be helped with a number of techniques, such as healing touch with guided imagery and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
On the flip side of this coin, it’s also possible to give people memories of incidents that never took place. It’s hard to say which scenario is more frightening. Psychologist Julia Shaw has demonstrated the ability to make a person remember committing a crime they did not have a hand in, even going so far as to provide vivid details about the imaginary event.
While it’s hard to imagine why a criminal psychologist would want to convince a patient they did something they hadn’t, it does raise a lot of interesting questions. If she can do it, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine that others, including law enforcement and governmental agencies, also possess this capability. If so, there really is nothing stopping them from using it to convince those who oppose them or speak out against them that they committed a crime and lock them up.
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