Erasing Memories?

A group from the University of Leicester has found there is a strong relationship between a specific protein produced by the brain, and stress levels. Through observing the ‘thin’ and ‘mushroom-like’ parts of nerve cells (Responsible for learning and memory) they have discovered that it is possible to adjust memories – Possibly making those that are stressful much less, stressful. This discovery came about after having performed tests on mice; these tests found that those lacking this protein were much less outgoing and preferred to be alone, away from others.

This breakthrough in research is intended to allow us to control production of the protein in human brains in order to control memories, helping individuals from experiencing too much stress or anxiety after living through highly stressful situations. According to Pawlak from the University of Leicester explained that while our brains are normally able to deal with stress well, through rebuilding connections between cells – better adapting us to stress. However, in highly stressful situations this process can carry on uncontrollably and can prevent effective communication between cells. The basic idea for treatment with regard to this discovery is to control the amount of lipocalin-2, slightly increasing its creation to lessen the stress of stressful events.

So far this test has only been run on mice in laboratory conditions and they are now looking at a future of furthering the tests on humans. When the mice were tested, they removed lipocalin-2 from their brains and exposed them to stressful situations. From this they could see that the Mushroom spines, responsible for memory, were formed much quicker than normal, indicating a much stronger memory of the event. Now testing on mice is one thing, their brain is tiny relative to humans. Could testing this theory on humans have severe consequences? The prospect of fiddling with memories to make them more stressful could have the potential to mask memories completely or maybe even destroy those which were not intended to be destroyed. The testing of this theory on humans would seem to be very risky, especially at such an early stage of research.



University of Leicester (2011, October 9). Brainstudy reveals stress code. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 17, 2011, from


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... And now I find my self in my first year at Bangor University (Wales, United Kingdom), studying Psychology with Neuropsychology With the long term goal of gaining my Doctorate. In the shorter term however, I intend on sharing with you all, my thoughts and opinions across a wide variety of subjects within the vast realm that is 'Psychology'. However, if you want to hear (Or indeed read), my opinion on wether Psychology can be called a 'Science', then it would probably be best to email me (: View all posts by DJPsych

5 responses to “Erasing Memories?

  • estherroseburt

    I find this quite unsettling ,essentially because i question whether this research is ethical?Why would you want to adjust the brain to make stressful memories less impacting,is that not just playing god in that instance ,this may sound very blunt but isn’t that what experiencing life is all about,collecting memories.

  • tasminrl

    I found this an interesting topic! Although the ability to erase negative memories seems like a revolutionary finding and as though it could be beneficial, especially for people who may have experienced highly traumatic events that have negatively impacted their life. We should still consider the downfalls to this research. Firstly, to remove memories, especially specific memories could be a difficult and risky task to undertake and there are chances that other parts of the brain could be damaged whilst performing such an operation. Also, is it not unethical in itself to just wipe a persons mind and remove a part of their life? I believe there are a variety of ethical concerns surrounding this research and that it could also been used for negative means by others if it does become possible. Furthermore, applying findings from animal studies to humans is also difficult and often lacking in validity. But to subject humans to brain eperiments based on findings conducted on rats is dangerous and subjecting them to serious harm.
    So, as psychologists should we not attempt to put an end to research like this, that breaches ethical guidelines such as protection from harm and could produce more bad than good.

  • mikerc92

    Using mice in genetic research such as this is always useful because of course mice and humans share a similar genome so results can be drawn across but on the other hand a lot of confounding factors exist in the human mind and thought process that do not in that of a mouse. So where as studying using mice has it’s benefits, i don’t fully believe in the usefulness of the results especially considering the believed adaption of the results. if it were to completely erase memory then fine, but to relieve stress through decreasing our susceptibility to it…. well given all that we go through and the constant adaptions our minds make to the ever changing stressful situations we are apart of, i don’t think one piece of medication can be made to solve the races problems in this matter.
    Secondly, the ethical implications present themselves as soon as the uses of positive results are shown. However, i don’t agree with the first poster. As humans, we’re giving mental capability to provide us with the physical tools we need to survive and develop. Our cognitive functions are as much a tool we use to develop as our creations so this is just another means of development. However, testing on human subjects would be very worrying and of course incorrect use of a possible resulting medicine could cause even more concern.

  • ihavelazervision

    It is quesionable as to whether or not the same results would be found in humans, due to the large differences in structure and chemistry between the brains of mice and humans. There is little to no generalisability between the two species. While the implications of this study are important, the potencial for the treatment of certain psychological and nuerological disorders such as post traumatic stess disorder and anxiety disorders is promising, the ethical issues are outstanding. This avenue of research could lead to huge abuses of power, people would theoretically be capable of erasing memories, experiences, and prehaps most importantly, the impact they had on someones life.

  • WeeklyPsychRamblings

    In my opinion would be highly unethical to test this theory on humans and/or any other living creature due to the possible implications of having any part of your memory tampered with, however this is a very interesting blog that has raised many points that I have never thought about before, and the benefits if testing were to be successful are obvious, but to me because mice and humans brain chemistry is so different it just doesn’t seem worth the risk to try out the affects on humans.

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