Got some bad memories you’d rather not remember? Very soon, you might be able to get rid of them.
We’ve all got memories that we’d love to wipe away—a soured romance, an embarrassing presentation, or, if you’re the city of Denver, Super Bowl XLVIII. If only there was a pill that could erase bad memories of those events.
This may become a reality. A team led by neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are currently collaborating on a HDACi, or histone deacetylase inhibitor. Early tests indicate that their drug can successfully replace unpleasant memories.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s essentially the premise of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the 2004 film, Kate Winslet plays a woman who breaks a man’s heart so badly that he goes to a special clinic to have his memories of her completely erased.
The drug works by messing with how brain cells record memories. The MIT team’s HDACi takes proteins – histones – and sticks them onto segments of DNA, which in turn impact how genes develop. Long story short, this lengthens the amount of time it takes for a bad memory to permanently entrench itself in the brain.
The drug could prove to be a great tool for treating people who have experienced trauma, particularly those suffering from PTSD. Current methods of therapy do an okay job, provided that patients don’t wait too long to seek treatment. For those who do, the HDACi could help them dig up the bad memories buried deep in their heads and replace them with better ones.
The researchers have tested the drug on mice and, so far, it’s proven effective. They exposed the rodents to a brief electrical shock after playing a loud noise. Then they waited a month for the bad memory to get lodged in the mice’s brains before giving them the HDACi. When the scientists exposed them to the loud noise again, they didn’t panic—the mice had completely forgotten that they were ever shocked.