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Researchers Successfully Erase Memories in Rats

brown rat in cage

If you think the ability to selectively erase memories is little more than the product of an overactive imagination or a science fiction novel, think again. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine say they’ve successfully managed not only to erase memories in rats, but to restore the memories after they’ve been erased.

Erasing Rats’ Memories

The researchers aimed to erase specific memories by electrically stimulating specific nerves in the brain. Researchers worked with rats whose brains had been genetically modified for light sensitivity. They stimulated the light-sensitive area of the rats’ brains while delivering an electrical shock to the rats’ feet. The rats quickly became fearful when the light-sensitive area of their brains were stimulated.

After the rats established a strong connection between brain stimulation and a shock to the foot, researchers then administered optical pulses to the same nerves; these second pulses are thought to have memory-erasing properties. After such stimulation, the rats stopped behaving fearfully in response to brain stimulation.

In the third phase of the study, researchers found they could re-activate the memory of pain and fear. To do this, they stimulated the brain yet again with optical pulses that caused the rats to yet again display fear in response to brain stimulation. Researchers hope that their work could eventually be used on human patients with memory challenges and health issues such as Alzheimer’s.

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Are Humans Next?

While this research is compelling, a world like that in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind isn’t any closer, and may not even be possible. Results on rats aren’t always applicable to humans, and there’s a significant difference between a conditioned response, such as a fearful reaction to brain stimulation, and a complicated memory. There’s also a challenge associated with interpreting the data. Researchers obviously can’t ask rats what they’re feeling or thinking, so they can’t be certain that the rats no longer “remember” the fear. Future research may address these challenges, though, and increasing knowledge about how rats’ memories work could offer more insight into human minds.


How to erase a memory –- and restore it: Researchers reactivate memories in rats. (2014, June 1). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140601150633.htm

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  • Grey June 4th, 2014 at 1:43 PM #1

    Great, do this stuff to rats. You think humans won’t be next or that someone somewhere won’t at least be trying to do something like this?
    Uhuh this is crazy and I don’t like it, taking science a little too far for my taste.

  • Cathryn A June 5th, 2014 at 3:39 PM #2

    I am appalled that this is even being done to lab rats. Are there any other health risks when this is done to the animals? If this isn’t something that we would even want done to humans then why is there a need to even experiment on this with animals? I love the idea of advancing science for a greater common good, but not if it is just about how far to the limit can we take this. This is exactly what a study like this feels like to me.

  • Nori June 8th, 2014 at 5:20 AM #3

    Fearful that science will be used for harm over good when I read things like this.

    Please tell me what the overall benefits of this kind of knowledge would be at any point in time. You truthfully know that this will not be used on the general public so to whom? Prisoners? War criminals? And who draws the line at when this would be acceptable and when it would not?

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