Remembering Memories

// Posted by on 02/28/2012 (11:53 PM)

After watching “Why We Fight” I was compelled to look into a different aspect of the lives of our soldiers: that of their re-entry into the civilian world. One of the greatest obstacles that faces them upon their return is the reliving of the traumatic events that they faced in their time abroad is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The most common weapon used against our soldiers (IEDs) lead to brain trauma, an injury that has recently been linked to PTSD. In my journey towards a deeper understanding of how we reimagine past experiences and ‘remember’ them I came across an enlightening and interesting article in Wired called “The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever,” an article which offers insightful background on how our memories are recalled and eventually speaks about the protein called PKMzeta which deals with the recall of memories within our synapses. Before you get to an understanding of the ‘forgetting pill’ the background that precedes the article’s discussion of PKMzeta offers a better understanding of memories. One of the central beliefs behind the treatment of traumatic injuries is that talking about painful memories can help you recover from them. This is the cornerstone that lead to the creation of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD), a method created by a firefighter Jefferey Mitch, after his experience with a particularly bad car wreck. The central idea behind this method is that “People who survive a painful event should express their feelings soon after so the memory isn’t “sealed over” and repressed, which could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.” This method uses trained facilitators, 30,000 of which are trained every year, who help those dealing with traumatic memories recover. After the events of 9/11, 2000 of these facilitators decended upon NYC to help those dealing with the events of the attacks.

However the method of CISD doesn’t take into account the way the mind works in the process of memory. The mistake is in the belief that our memories don’t change: the idea of the memory being a concrete form of information has been around since time of the ancient Greeks. However scientists have discovered that memories change in the act of remembering: we highlight details that seem more important and let go of those that don’t. This act is called memory reconsolidation and accounts for why in remembering events after they’ve happened our stories become tighter and narratives more coherent. The use of PKMzeta inhibitors has been successfully shown to be able to selectively able to delete aspects of a memory. This application does not only apply to those suffering from PTSD, because memory plays a central role in other ailments “driven by a broken set of memories” like chronic pain, OCD and drug addiction. With the outset of medical breakthroughs like PKMzeta inhibitors, we may be forced to rethink the commonly held beliefs surrounding human memories, perhaps one day be able to delete and update our memories like you move around files on a computer’s hardrive. This may represent another step towards the merging of man and machine.

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Kelsey said...

I can appreciate the need for effective methods to treat PTSD but something about being able to delete and update memories doesn’t feel right. Our experiences are apart of who we are, positive and negative, and I think it’s a testament to the strength of people when they can come to terms with things. Erasing a painful memory sounds like giving up. I can’t imagine that a debate will start about the ethics of this drug should it become a common phenomena in therapy.

// 02/29/2012 at 1:47 pm

Max said...

While I can appreciate the trepidation to accept this treatment, you should understand this:a type of this treatment is already being used. Not widely used, however it is used for those who have serious traumatic memories. An example of one who has used this type of treatment is Lois, a Canadian woman who is discussed on page four of the reading. Lois wasn’t using PKMzeta inhibitors but propranolol, a less direct treatment that is a beta-blocker. An important distinction to make here Kelsey is that this doesn’t delete memories so much as distance the strength of their recall by inhibiting PKMzeta. PTSD memories are described as constantly being “horribly intense” and Lois after her treatment describes her progress as ““I still remembered everything that happened, and it still hurt so much, but now I felt like I could live with it. The feelings were just less intense. The therapy let me breathe.”” Deletion was the wrong word for me to use as that is the future of treatments. I’d suggest reading the Forgetting Pill article to fully understand the treatment, but this is my fault. The current treatments in practice now use a more antiquated drug, propranolol, a beta blocker that wasn’t designed for this treatment yet works for it.

// 02/29/2012 at 2:14 pm

Tommy said...

The article you talked about reminded me a lot of a Radiolab story I had to listen to for another class earlier this semester, and when I went to look for it I realized it actually features LeDoux and Nader, and the work they’ve done (The show was called “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Rat, . While it’s kind of a weird “show,” I think it does a good job of explaining their research, as well as some possible implications, much like those expressed in the Wired article. My only problem with the Wired article is that it makes it seem as though this is something completely new, and that actually erasing specific memories is something right around the corner, while this research has been published for a long time already. On the other hand, this research has indirectly led to some serious breakthroughs in the treatment of PTSD. I had to read an article for the same class detailing the combination of new drugs, like propranolol, with psychotherapy to enhance the effects of therapy (this article comes from blackboard, so let me know if the link doesn’t work, I think this is a pretty serious breakthrough, with some obvious ethical concerns. After we discussed the Radiolab story and the article in class, at serious length, we pretty much came to the conclusion that if someone seriously wants to get rid of a memory, who are we to stop them, and hopefully soon, if this Wired article is any indication, there will be drugs out there that can help them

// 02/29/2012 at 10:53 pm