Researchers change emotions associated with memories

WASHINGTON — Our strongest memories call up equally strong emotions: Remembering certain experiences make us feel good; others, not so much.

It seems like a completely natural process. But researchers at MIT may have figured out how it works — and may have found a way to change that around.

The study on mice has found the circuit in the brain that controls how memories link with certain emotions, as well as a way to use light to reverse the emotions associated with specific memories. Researchers were able to condition some mice to consider one side of a rectangular box as pleasant; others, to consider one side as unpleasant.

Then, by using a laser to activate parts of the mice’s brains, they were than able to reverse the process and entice the mice to spend more time in the area of the box they had once been conditioned to fear and less time in the part they’d been conditioned to enjoy.

The MIT researchers were able to plant false memories in the mind of mice in a study last year; this study examines what combines memories with certain emotions.

Researchers say that these findings might light a path to creating drugs that help treat conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Senior author Susumu Tonegawa says, “In the future, one may be able to develop methods that help people to remember positive memories more strongly than negative ones.”

The study is described in the Aug. 27 issue of the magazine Nature.

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