Everyone has had events in their life they want to forget, but sometimes the slightest stimulus can bring the memory back. A familiar sound, smell, or place could trigger our brain to recall the past, but over time, new memories can overwrite the original, to make those stimuli less effective. Researchers at MIT have identified a key protein in the memory formation process, and this discovery could lead to therapies for overcoming the past.
Memories are not just stored in our brains, but integrated with other memories, so recalling one memory can recall others. If you read a book while listening to music, hearing the particular piece again may remind you of the story, or vice versa. To forget a memory will require breaking those connections, and when conditioned responses are involved, this process is called memory extinction. The MIT researchers have discovered that the protein, Tet1 regulates the formation of new memories. Using mice without any Tet1 in their brains, the researchers performed a series of memory experiments, finding that the mice could learn to fear cages where they received mild shocks, but could not relearn to be comfortable in the cage when no shocks were delivered. Normal mice were able to relearn.
With this knowledge, it may be possible to develop medicine that will encourage the formation of new memories, to more quickly extinguish old ones. The researchers are also looking at how other Tet proteins affect memory formation.