Researchers have reported that an enzyme which helps the brain encode memories for later retrieval also plays a role in allowing it to forget frightening events. In experiments, mice given a chemical compound that inhibits the enzyme were less likely to be frozen in fear when placed in the same setting where they had previously experienced electrical shocks. The findings were published in an online version of the journal, Nature Neuroscience.
The study suggests that one day, a version of the chemical could be used to control the enzyme and reduce the fears of combat veterans or others whose frightening experiences led them to develop mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Emotional disorders are a big problem in this society and PTSD is very prominent, especially in veterans,” said Li-Huei Tsai, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who led the study.
The enzyme, known as Cdk5, has previously been shown to have a Jekyll and Hyde-like role in the hippocampus, the brain’s chief learning and memory centre. Tsai isn’t ready to test the drug on people with PTSD yet.