Thursday, October 23, 2008



Mice and Science: Forgetting the Past

A recent article in Scientific American reveals how scientists from the Medical College of Georgia have managed to erase memories in mice. It has been found that altering the level of an important protein in the brain, known as alpha-CaMKII, can selectively delete certain memories. Alpha-CaMKII is a protein that contributes to learning and memory development. Scientists manipulated the activity of this protein in mice to influence how well short and long term memories can be stored. Mice that were conditioned to recall stimuli such as an electric shock at the same time that the protein was turned up in their brain seemed to forget the memory of the shock while not forgetting anything else. It has been suggested by some experts that it could be beneficial to erase certain memories in humans, such as those suffering from trauma. However, Joe Tsien of the Medical College of Georgia, warns of such procedures: "All memories, including the painful emotional memories, have their purposes. We learn great lessons from those memories or experiences so we can avoid making the same kinds of mistakes again, and help us to adapt down the road". Whether or not such a procedure could ever be performed on a human is one question, but perhaps a more important one is whether it should be.

Posted by: Benjamin Spozio (6)

Update (10/27/08): It was nice to see so many comments on this article that related to the moral implications of such a controversial subject. I firmly agree with all those who commented on the dangers of erasing memories. As numerous people said, memories certainly serve an important role in our day-to-day decision-making and social interactions. The potentially negative consequences of tampering with such a personal aspect of our being must certainly be taken into account before testing could be done on a human subject. However, I was quite interested to read a comment that suggested using a corollary of this technology to perhaps help those actually suffering with memory problems, such as Alzheimer's. I had not looked at this scientific development from that aspect, and it made me reconsider whether or not some good could come from this. It was also interesting to see one person mention a scientific parallel to the movie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" because the article itself actually made reference to that exact film (which is worth watching for anyone who has not seen it).

25 Comments:

At 8:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting idea, and I like that you went into the ethics of using it on humans. Showing that the manipulation of a single protein can have such effects is a big discovery. Do you think that this will be able to be targeted to more specific memories or will it be limited to short or long term differentiation?

Erica Damon

 
At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is extremely interesting but at the same time very scary to think that one day we could be erasing memories that may be serving purposes however painful they are. This reminds me of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The brain is a very complex thing that we don't fully understand, and playing with it in humans could lead to disaster. What different behaviors did the research deal with and were any unsuccessful in being erased, I also wonder if this erasure is permanent?

Amanda Joyce

 
At 12:43 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I love that you brought in the aspect of this on humans because when I started to read the blog and saw they could erase memories in mice my immediate reaction was "oh no! are they going to try it in humans next." I wonder if the memories may come back someday, like how people who suffer form trauma will completely forget about it and it will come back to haunt them years later.

Jennifer Smith (6)

 
At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, intriguing article. I am very curious as to whether the scientits tend to follow through with this experiment by one day testing it on humans. That is a very scary thought, considering are brains are very complex in their own ways. Ethics always play a part in the study, and personally I think that it shouldn't take part. Granted, some people really do suffer immensely due to a specific memory, but sometimes those memories do in fact make the person a better person. This is an awesome selection.

Katie Cole

 
At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Allison Cornell said...

Wow! Now there could be a scientific basis for the cartoons on TV were people are erasing people's memories?! I'm not so sure I like the idea of that. However, I wonder if the research on this protein can somehow be used to help figure out how to get memory back. That could be helpful in many cases such as different types of amnesia, Alzheimer's disease, etc. I can see where those kinds of uses could be more beneficial - and more ethical.

Allison Cornell (6)

 
At 8:07 PM, Blogger PWH said...

The fact that this can be done is interesting but I'm tossing between whether or not I like the idea of erasing a traumatic memory. At first I thought it would be great if someone could just erase such a horrible memory, but then when you put that quote in there that says we need all our memories I got confused. I understand that we do need a lot of our memories so we can grow an learn from them, but traumatic memories like witnessing a murder or being raped.. do you really think keeping those kind of memories is necessary?

Chantal Gomes

 
At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this article will be the central point in ethics. To be able to erase memories in mice, and Im assuming theres a possibility in humans, is very serious stuff. As you stated in the article, even bad memories have a purpose especially in animals. Without bad memories how will they modify their behavior in their daily lives? Very interesting topic.

Mia DiFabbio

 
At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fascinating concept! While it could potentially be a very useful tool in some ways, the idea of using this on humans seems horrifying. I am curious as to whether or not the memories eventually come back or maybe if there are any "remnants" of them.

Posted by Sarah Moltzen

 
At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really interesting...I wonder if this procedure would actually benefit people or if it would negatively change the course of someones life. I know plenty of people who have learned from bad experiences but there are also some things that are just too traumatic to ever get over. Nice job!

Ericka Adey

 
At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. Are mice the only ones with the alpha-CaMKII protein, or do other animals have it too? If so does it also trigger memory?
-Sasha Rogers

 
At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really interesting. I'm wondering, does manipulating the protein actually "erase" the memory or just affect how it is stored? If this was ever tried in humans, I can imagine the controversy over it. However, studies like this one could be useful for understanding amnesia and alzheimers.

- Jane de Verges

 
At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is definitely a new and exciting discovery, but again, one single gene or protein controling a complex behavior is not that convincing. I would rather assume that there is a whole cascade or pathway behind this and that the protein is only one step in the process. But I guess this is just preliminary research. Overall, very interesting article.

Hanbing Guo

 
At 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really neat! I do agree with Tsien, though. There is a reason we make memories, and getting rid of them may not be very beneficial.

-Cecelia Hunt

 
At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very interesting and I can definetely see both sides of the argument... I understand why certain people, that have gone through trauma for example may want to erase their memories... but at the same time, our memories are what makes us individuals, they are the building blocks that make us who we are. By erasing our memories we erase our past... It is like starting our life all over again... Should we be able to manipulate what we remember and forget? Should we be able to play "God"?

 
At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very interesting and I can definetely see both sides of the argument... I understand why certain people, that have gone through trauma for example may want to erase their memories... but at the same time, our memories are what makes us individuals, they are the building blocks that make us who we are. By erasing our memories we erase our past... It is like starting our life all over again... Should we be able to manipulate what we remember and forget? Should we be able to play "God"?

Brena Sena

 
At 7:51 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This is an interesting article. Is it only short term memories that can be erased? It's amazing how one protein can make such a difference. I don't think this should be used on humans. I agree that memories have their purposes.

Rob Lubenow

 
At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder why scientists are putting all of their time into studying this, when they could be researching cancer (something that would be more useful). I understand that this is a major breakthrough, but it is very scary to think that they could mess with human memories like that. More importantly, how do they get the correct memory? Also, how could the experimenters for the mice prove that the mice remembered other things? Do the memories ever come back? This was a really good selection for a post; good job.

-Alyson Paige

 
At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really interesting article and find for the scientific community. I can deduce from the article that the same or a simular protein in humans has been found to delete certain memories? If they have found that altering the level of this protein can delete certain memories, would decreasing the amount lead to a stronger memory? Is there even a possibility of resorting memories?

Maura Mulvey 10/26/08

 
At 9:10 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Assuming that humans also have this protein and traumatic memories could be erased what is your opinion on this idea? Do you think that if it could be done it should be allowed? I know that sometimes in humans as an individuals body's way of protecting itself the brain will actually block out memories that are too traumatic or painful. I wonder if the same kinds of proteins are at work when this occurs.

Posted by: Lindsay Goodyear

 
At 9:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow i had to read that one a few times. erasing memories is an interesting idea and clearly its ethical implications must me closely examined.

Matthew Sousa

 
At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This applications to humans seems very far away at the time being, but nonetheless, it is important to note the ethical and moral barrier that will be surpassed if memory genes are manipulated in human fertilized eggs. There are some scenarios where expertise in memory erasing practices would be good to have. Victims of traumatic experiences have memories that are so painful and stunting to their quality of life that they are completely unable to function in the world. There are some victims of car accidents or rape, prisoners of war, and veterans who are unable to maintain a job or support a family and are completely unable to make positive contributions to society due to their post traumatic stress disorder. For the ones whose stress is too mentally detrimental to come to terms with and accept as a character strengthening event, a simple procedure could allow these people to live fulfilling lives once again.

Jordan Grinstein

 
At 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the movie "Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind", which is a great movie about a procedure a doctor and his associates perform on people to erase their memory of past failing relationships. I've always wondered if this is something that could ever really be done. I'm sure it would be extremely controversial however because who is to say which memories are allowed to be erased and which don't make the cut? Because of ethics, I doubt this is going to be something done on humans but it is really cool that they did it with mice.

-Julie Riley

 
At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Jen Kodela said...

could this also help find a solution to memory loss? do alpha-CaMKII levels have anything to do with the ability to gain memory back or improve memory?

 
At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Jen Kodela said...

and is that the only level that they looked at or are there other factors that come into play?

 
At 12:27 AM, Blogger PWH said...

Very interesting....i really think this is a great discovery but i'm a bit skeptical in what appropriate fashion it should be implemented for human use.


-Joanne Philippeaux

 

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