Unpleasant memories can be erased by switching off a particular gene


People anguish from dementia, accidents or traumatic events, a squad of founder has managed to erase unpleasant memories in mice using a ‘genetic switch.’ The squad from KU Leuven (Belgium) and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology (Germany) establish that that some memories can also be erased when one exacting gene is switched off. The squad trained mice that had been genetically modified in one single gene: neuroplastin. This gene, which is investigated by only little groups in the world, is very significant for brain plasticity. In humans, changes in the regulation of the neuroplastin gene have recently been linked to decreased academic abilities and schizophrenia. ‘We were astonished to discover that deactivating one solitary gene is enough to erase associative memories formed before or during the learning trials,’ said Professor Detlef Balschun from the KU Leuven’s laboratory for biological psychology.

‘Switching off the neuroplastin gene has an crash on the behaviour of the mice, because it interferes with the communication between their brain cells,’ he informed. In the research, the mice were taught to move from one side of a box to the other as soon as a lamp lights up, thus avoiding a foot stimulus. This knowledge process is called associative learning. When the scientists switched off the neuroplastin gene after training, the mice were no longer able to do the task correctly. In other words, they showed learning and memory deficits that were specifically related to associative knowledge. The control mice with the neuroplastin gene switched on, by contrast, could still do the task completely. By measuring the electrical signals in the brain, the KU Leuven team discovered clear deficits in the cellular mechanism used to store memoirs. These changes are still visible at the level of individual brain cells, as postdoctoral researcher Victor Sabanov was able to show.