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Drug May Help Erase Scary Memories

Blocks memory reconsolidation when given before memory reactivation

MONDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Treatment with the beta-adrenergic receptor antagonist propranolol can erase scary memories by blocking memory reconsolidation, a process where fear memories change when recalled, according to research published online Feb. 15 in Nature Neuroscience.

Merel Kindt, Ph.D., and colleagues from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands conditioned fear (pictures of spiders) in human subjects through fear acquisition, memory reactivation and memory extinction. Subjects were treated with placebo (20 subjects), propranolol (20 subjects), or propranolol without memory reactivation (20 subjects).

The researchers found that when propranolol was administered before memory reactivation, the subjects had a greatly reduced startle response to the spider pictures 24 hours later and showed no reinstatement of the fear response. This suggested that the fear memory was erased, according to the authors.

"In sum, oral administration of the beta-adrenergic receptor antagonist propranolol before reactivation of a fear memory resulted in a substantial weakening of the fear response," Kindt and colleagues conclude. "Disrupting the reconsolidation of fear memory opens up new avenues for providing a long-term cure for patients with emotional disorders."

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