Scientists are one step closer to finally erasing people’s bad memories. Researchers at the Stony Brook University claim that targeting one’s amygdala, a part of the brain involved in emotional memory, is the key that could help patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD forget their traumatic memories.

The study, published on April 28 in the journal Neuron, involved assessing mice based on a fear-based model and found that increasing the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the amygdala boosted memory, making it last two times longer than normal. On the other hand, decreasing the neurotransmitter wipes it out.

The researchers explain that the acetylcholine is delivered to the amygdala by cholinergic neurons located at the base of the brain. They utilised light to stimulate specific groups of cholinergic neurons, a method known as opto-genetics.

bad memories

PTSD patients like war veterans could soon get rid of their bad memories. Credit: Banyan Treatment Centre

“Memories of emotionally charged experiences are particularly strong, whether positive or negative experiences and the goal of our research is to determine the mechanisms underlying the strengthening of memory,” adds Lorna Role who is a professor and Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Behaviour as well as the co-director of the Neurosciences Institute at Stony Brook Medicine.

The new study supports earlier ones that have suggested that cholinergic input to this brain part can improve a person’s emotional memories.The researchers hope that they can find other ways to control an individual’s memory without having to resort to medications that can cause adverse reactions.

“The long-term goal of our research is that we would like to find ways — potentially independent of drug administration — to enhance or diminish the strength of specific memories, the good ones, and diminish the bad ones,” concludes Role.

The research team adds that further investigations are still needed. Nevertheless, they admit that studying the cholinergic neurons is still complex since these are mixed with other types of neurons and are in fewer amounts compared to other brain neurons.