Laser Treatment for Memory

To treat PTSD, anxieties, and enhance cognition



In an experimental study, the researchers found that artificially activating memory cells in the bottom part of the brain’s hippocampus leads to enhancing negative memories which then can become even more debilitating. In contrast, stimulating memory cells in the top part of the hippocampus can strip bad memories of their emotional oomph, making them less traumatic to remember.

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The technique is called optogenetics and it allowed the scientific team to map out which cells in the hippocampus were being activated when mice made new memories of positive, neutral, and negative experiences. Then, identifying which cells were part of the memory-making process (which they did with the help of a glowing green protein designed to literally light up when cells are activated), they were able to artificially trigger those specific memories again later, using laser light to activate the memory cells.

Ramirez, a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, says suppressing over activity in the bottom part of the hippocampus could be used to treat PTSD and anxiety disorders. It could also be the key to enhancing cognitive skills to drastically improve his memory and brain function as with the film Limitless where a pill was used to drastically alter cognitive powers.

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“The field of memory manipulation is still young.... It sounds like sci-fi but this study is a sneak preview of what’s to come in terms of our abilities to artificially enhance or suppress memories,” says Ramirez.

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Reference Briana K. Chen, Nathen J. Murawski, Christine Cincotta, Olivia McKissick, Abby Finkelstein, Anahita B. Hamidi, Emily Merfeld, Emily Doucette, Stephanie L. Grella, Monika Shpokayte, Yosif Zaki, Amanda Fortin, Steve Ramirez. Artificially Enhancing and Suppressing Hippocampus-Mediated Memories. Current Biology, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.04.065
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