Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health problem associated with traumatic life experiences, including a close encounter with death, is common among soldiers returning from wars or places of unrest. In addition, traumatic and painful experiences from the past life, such as road accidents, child abuse, or being the victim of a crime, may leave people with symptoms of nightmares, flashbacks, and paranoid behavior. Through various studies, researchers have discovered that erasing some specific memories from the brain can relieve PTSD symptoms, and cognitive behavioral therapy seems to work well in this regard.
The studies carried out on mice revealed that only a few neurons are responsible for creating haunting memories of a traumatic event. Eliminating or turning off these memories was found to be helpful in alleviating PTSD symptoms in mice. Researchers are hopeful that they will be able to replicate the same results in humans as well. Findings suggest that it is possible to treat people with PTSD by erasing disturbing memories. The study was aimed at looking for an effective pharmacological intervention to target and inactivate the affected neurons. Scientists were able to achieve their objective by surgically removing the engram (a small circuit of brain cells responsible for creating the memory in the first place) and turning off the traumatic memory centers.
However, researchers allowed the elimination of memories only in extreme cases, where the haunting past interfered with mental health and adversely affected the quality of life. Using the approach in the case of someone who just wishes to wipe out a bad memory, like a failure in school, can have side effects and is actually not required. Instead, researchers emphasized the need to retain memories of mistakes as they could help prevent people from repeating them. Things should not be done only because they are possible. It is important to note that eliminating memories without any strong reason can have huge ethical implications.
Considering the possible troubles that may result due to erasing memories, scientists emphasized the need to develop some strong ethical policies applicable to the potential use of deactivating neurons carrying traumatic memories. Experts warranted adequate caution before going ahead with this interesting advance in scientific research.
The scientists also discovered the appearance of new neurons every six hours, which were engaged in recording new traumatic memories. That means the same brain cells can store the memories of two traumatic events for a lifetime, provided the events take place within a six-hour window. However, after six hours, a different network of brain cells will be utilized to encode the memories separately. Researchers are upbeat that this technique of eliminating the memory of pleasure attached to the first experience of addictive drugs could be effective in developing effective modalities for treating addictions as well.
Many treatment alternatives are available for PTSD. Researchers have been long advocating cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as one of the most effective therapies for counseling PTSD patients. In CBT, the therapist communicates with the patient and tries to understand the trauma and its aftermaths. Then, he counsels and convinces the patient to live in the present rather than ruminate over the past traumatic memories.