No longer the domain of science fiction, researchers at Medical College of Georgia in the US, have found a way to selectively wipe memories from the brain. So far they’ve only got this working in mice, which is a relief for us all.
It all centres on a molecule called calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II, or CaMKII, a protein that plays an important role in many aspects of learning and memory.
Writing in the journal Neuron, Dr Joe Tsien and his team describe their experiments to rapidly change the levels of CaMKII activity in the brains of genetically modified mice. The mice had been engineered so that CaMKII levels can be changed using a simple chemical. The researchers found that temporarily boosting levels of CaMKII affected whether the mice could remember newly-formed memories, or even fear memories from a month before. Then further experiments showed that is wasn’t due to the fact that the mice couldn’t recall the memories, rather that they had been specifically wiped, while other memories were unaffected.
If the name of Dr Tsien seems familiar, it may be because back in 1999, he and his team created Doogie, a mouse with enhanced learning and memory skills. Although it might sound like the work of evil scientists, the brain-wiping research could lead to ways to selectively wipe traumatic memories or unwanted phobias. However, Dr Tsien says that we shouldn’t expect human brainwashing to turn up any time soon. He commented that "No one should expect to have a pill do the same in humans any time soon, we are barely at the foot of a very tall mountain."