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Beta Blocker Blocks Feelings of Bad Memories
Date:2/15/2009

Propranolol erases physiological effects of trauma, study finds

SUNDAY, Feb. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Imagine being able to decouple bad memories from the fear and anxiety they produce with just a pill.

That's the promise of a new report from Dutch researchers published in the Feb. 15 advance online issue of Nature Neuroscience.

Merel Kindt and colleagues used a beta blocker called propranolol (Inderal) to erase, at least in the short-term, the fear response induced by a laboratory-induced painful memory in humans.

Such findings could one day help individuals suffering from pathological anxiety disorders from the debilitating physiological effects of their fears. Yet many questions remain, experts note, such as how permanent the effect is, and whether it can affect traumatic memories that may be decades old.

"I think it's a very interesting and exciting study," said Jane Taylor, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University, who studies memory reconsolidation in rats. "It will be interesting to know how long-lasting this effect is, and whether it only works on recently consolidated memories."

Mark Bouton, a professor of psychology at the University of Vermont, echoed that sentiment. "This study is a solid step forward in our understanding of how to reduce fear," he said. "The big question is whether this treatment will reduce all forms of relapse, including the return of fear that can occur with the passage of time."

Human memory often is compared to computer storage. Some memories exist in a sort of neurological flash RAM, whereas others are stored for the long term, on the brain's hard disk. The analogy works to a point, but it isn't perfect, as it turns out to be quite difficult to permanently erase files in the brain's memory banks.

"Fear memories can be surprisingly resilient," Bouton explained.

To try to break at least the physiological hold these fears
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