New research shows that long-term memory storage is not as secure as once thought. In fact, it is now evident that memory can be erased. You heard me right. All those fond recollections of our youth can be whisked away forever by just blocking a protein that controls information flow between brain cells.
U.S. and Israeli researchers found these results by feeding rats saccharine, which made them sick, and then teaching the rats to associate the taste of saccharine with feeling ill. The scientists then injected the rats with an enzyme inhibitor called ZIP, blocking the protein PKMzeta, which controls memory. As a result, the rats were unable to remember the association with saccharine (feeling ill), regardless of how long they were trained. This suggests that a key mechanism in the brain works like a piece of machinery to store long-term memory. According to Yadin Dudai who led the study, “Long-term memory can be erased.”
This study is being touted as a breakthrough for the understanding and future treatment of dementia, a progressive decline of mental function well beyond that associated with normal aging. I certainly think that this is one potential use for these recent findings; however, I can’t help but feel a little creeped out by the possibility that we may be seeing the future with regard to some Orwellian “mind control”, a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And it’s not lost on me that this study was conducted by two groups that could greatly benefit from a few erased memories in the world of politics and national security. Although I’m not usually one to subscribe to conspiracy theories, I still feel a bit uneasy about any research that leads to tampering with brain function. I mean, we think therefore we are, right? Oh well, I guess we’ve got to take the good with the bad with every situation, and that includes with science. Let’s just hope human trials won’t be taking place anytime soon.