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Can ‘Erasing Memories’ Help Combat Addiction?

We always appreciate it when dependencies are looked at from a scientific angle. There is so much to be learned from the brain’s behavior and how impulses beyond our control can fuel addictive tendencies. To that end, researchers from Stanford University and the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences recently combined forces to understand the role memories play in these types of actions; particularly when it pertains to relapses.


Their latest findings were published on the Medical Express site, which covers advancements in the worlds of science and medicine. What the two teams discovered was that particular memories drive people to want to use over and over again. Those recollections come in two ways. The first being the sensation of being “high” and the pleasures associated with certain substances. The second is the pain of withdrawal and the desire to re-introduce narcotics to escape those negative sensations.


To work around those “memory urges,” the researchers used laboratory mice for a series of cranial experiments. What ultimately succeeded was interrupting the brain pathway responsible for drug-associated memories. As the teams put it, they “erased these substance abuse recollections from the mice’s brains.”


The actual process to achieve this result was rather fascinating and it was explained in detail on the Medical Express site. First, the researchers got lab mice addicted to morphine. Then, using light from an optical fiber, they were able to turn off their paraventricular thalamus pathway (which is a retentive portion of the brain) and alleviated their drug withdrawal symptoms. That was a key moment, as it effectively “erased the painful memories of withdrawals.”


Once that was silenced, the mice’s cravings for more morphine went away. A day after, the pathway (or PVT as it is commonly called) was able to function again, meaning memories were able to reactivate. But without that initial recollection, the mice turned away from the drugs and, for the most part, conquered their addictions.


Dr. Chen Xiaoke, one of the researchers on the team, spoke to Medical Express about the positive results they were seeing. While very optimistic, he did caution that this type of research is still far removed from humans.


“Our data suggest that after silencing this PVT pathway, environmental cues will not work to reactivate this memory,” Dr. Xiaoke explained. “Our success in preventing relapse in rodents may one day translate to an enduring treatment of opioid addiction in people.”