Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Why emotional memories of traumatic life events are so persistent.

Many believers in 'memory recovery' assert that traumatic memories are stored within the cells of the body in some unique manner that is 'unknown to science'.

Recent scientific research suggests this assertion is based on fallacy.
Traumatic memories are, it appears, stored in the brain just like any other memory:

ScienceDaily (May 11, 2008) — Emotional memories of traumatic life events such as accidents, war experiences or serious illnesses are stored in a particularly robust way by the brain. This renders effective treatment very difficult. Researchers at ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich have now successfully tracked down the molecular bases of these strong, very persistent memories.

Following co-presentation with nausea, conditioned mice avoid the sugar solution for months. (Credit: Image courtesy of ETH Zurich)

The expression “post-traumatic stress disorder” is once again constantly on everyone’s lips in relation to those returning from the Iraq war or survivors of catastrophes such as the tsunami. This is not a new development, since it always occurs when people experience extreme situations. It is known that emotional memories of both a positive and a negative kind are stored by our brain in a particularly robust way.

Consequently they have a very large effect on our behaviour and, in the case of adverse memories, they can place considerable restrictions on the way we go about our lives. As a result, we avoid places, smells or objects that remind us of the traumatic experience, because they may trigger severe anxieties. Isabelle Mansuy, Professor of Cellular Neurobiology at ETH Zurich and of Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences at the University of Zurich, and her research group have now shown that the enzyme calcineurin and the gene regulation factor Zif268 decisively determine the intensity of emotional memories. For the first time, this has enabled the regulatory processes at the synapse, which are important for emotional memories, to be linked to the processes in the cell nucleus...

Complete text at: www.sciencedaily.com

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