According to their study recently published in Science, it may soon be possible to control fear memories with extinction-based drug therapies.
The Researchers studied proteins in mice known as extracellular matrix chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans and discovered that they form 'neural nets' in the brain which protect against the erasure of fear memories. By giving the mice a drug called chondroitinase ABC, the researchers say they were able to degrade these perineuronal nets and render subsequently acquired fear memories susceptible to erasure.
The finding has potentially important implications for sufferers of anxiety disorders as it could allow doctors to erase the memories of patients who have had extremely traumatic experiences, such as survivors of war.
"The identification of cellular mechanisms that ... control the stability of fear memories is extremely important for the development of new and better therapies for anxiety disorders," said David P. Wolfer, who reviewed the study for F1000 Medicine
"Once we know how perineuronal nets are regulated, it may be possible to ... allow fears in adults to be erased by extinction-based therapies," said Gregory Quirk, an anxiety disorders expert.
Citation: Gogolla N, Caroni P, Lüthi A, Herry C. 'Perineuronal nets protect fear memories from erasure', Science. 2009 Sep 4;325(5945):1214-5.