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Young Animals May Be Able to Erase Bad Memories
Date:9/4/2009

It's not clear humans could do the same, researchers say

FRIDAY, Sept. 4 (HealthDay News) -- New Swiss research suggests that young animals may have a mechanism that allows them to jettison traumatic memories, but experts say it's unclear whether humans of any age can do the same.

In fact, scientists are still debating whether human memories truly disappear or simply go into deep storage.

"It's fair to say that most of the researchers in human memory now believe that it's very unlikely memories are really erased," said Mark McDaniel, a psychology professor and memory specialist at Washington University in St. Louis. "What happens probably is that the memories are still stored."

In animals, however, there's evidence that traumatic memories that involve fear are actually erased in the young, said study co-author Cyril Herry, a researcher with the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland.

In adults, however, it seems that such memories can be blocked but still be retrieved later.

In the study, which appears in the Sept. 4 issue of Science, Herry and colleagues gave a slight shock to rats when they heard a tone. If their memory worked properly, they'd later link the two events and be afraid after hearing the tone.

In adult rats, researchers targeted what they called an extracellular matrix or "net" that seems to protects some neurons involved in memory from destruction. These cells, which are found in the brain area known as the amygdala, appear to form in the adult but not the juvenile rat.

When the researchers selectively destroyed this protective net, adult rats more rapidly forgot about the link between the tone and the sock, and completely forgot about it seven and 28 days later, suggesting that the memory had been erased, not just blocked.

But McDaniel noted that memories in humans do seem to stick around, although in some cases it may take spec
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