Memory altering research the stuff of sci-fi, cinema and Sherlock

In the BBC’s Sherlock, the title character –played by Benedict Cumberbatch — often resorts to his “mind palace” to piece together nebulous memories.

In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a character played by Kate Winslet goes to a clinic to get  painful memories of a relationship erased.

.photoA bit of a stretch, but add Frank Booth’s gas sniffing psycho from the film Blue Velvet, and you pretty much find nods to all the research Carolyn Y. Johnson talks about in her Globe column this morning. 

In research published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, McLean Hospital researchers took rats that had learned to fear a tone because it was followed by a foot shock and erased the negative memory, by having them breathe xenon gas. In a separate study, Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists reported in the journal Nature they were able to use cutting-edge genetic tools to alter the emotional context of a memory, allowing them to replace the negative memory of receiving a mild electric shock with the pleasurable one of mingling with mice of the opposite sex.

That adds to a body of research from MIT over recent years that has shown that administering a drug can wipe out a negative memory in mice, or that it is possible to trigger an existing memory or plant a false one using genetic manipulation.

 

 

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