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Inside our brains, a cashew-shaped structure called the hippocampus stores the sensory and emotional information that makes up memories, whether they be positive or negative ones. No two memories are exactly alike, and likewise, each memory we have is stored inside a unique combination of brain cells that contain all the environmental and emotional information associated with that memory. The hippocampus itself, although small, comprises many different subregions all working in tandem to recall the elements of a specific memory.
Now, in a new paper in Current Biology, Ramirez and a team of collaborators have shown just how pliable memory is if you know which regions of the hippocampus to stimulate -- which could someday enable personalized treatment for people haunted by particularly troubling memories.
Disorders - PTSD - Idea - Experience - Person
"Many psychiatric disorders, especially PTSD, are based on the idea that after there's a really traumatic experience, the person isn't able to move on because they recall their fear over and over again," says Briana Chen, first author of the paper, who is currently a graduate researcher studying depression at Columbia University.
In their study, Chen and Ramirez, the paper's senior author, show how traumatic memories -- such as those at the root of disorders like PTSD -- can become so emotionally loaded. By artificially activating memory cells in the bottom part of the brain's hippocampus, negative memories 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.
Well, at least if you're a mouse.
Using a technique called optogenetics, Chen and Ramirez mapped out which cells in the hippocampus were being activated when male mice made new memories of positive, neutral, and negative experiences. A positive experience, for example, could be exposure to a female mouse. In contrast,...
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