From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7852300
http://www.balloon-juice.com/?p=7964

http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070305/full/070305-17.html

Wipe Out A Single Memory

11 March 2007 / Kerri Smith

Drug can clear away one fearful memory while leaving another intact.

A single, specific memory has been wiped from the brains of rats,
leaving other recollections intact.

The study adds to our understanding of how memories are made and
altered in the brain, and could help to relieve sufferers of post-
traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of the fearful memories that disrupt
their lives. The results are published in Nature Neuroscience1.

The brain secures memories by transferring them from short-term to
long-term storage, through a process called reconsolidation. It has
been shown before that this process can be interrupted with drugs. But
Joseph LeDoux of the Center for Neural Science at New York University
and his colleagues wanted to know how specific this interference was:
could the transfer of one specific memory be meddled with without
affecting others?

“Our concern was: would you do something really massive to their
memory network?” says LeDoux.

Scary music

To find out, they trained rats to fear two different musical tones, by
playing them at the same time as giving the rats an electric shock.
Then, they gave half the rats a drug known to cause limited amnesia
(U0126, which is not approved for use in people), and reminded all the
animals, half of which were still under the influence of the drug, of
one of their fearful memories by replaying just one of the tones.

When they tested the rats with both tones a day later, untreated
animals were still fearful of both sounds, as if they expected a
shock. But those treated with the drug were no longer afraid of the
tone they had been reminded of under treatment. The process of re-
arousing the rats’ memory of being shocked with the one tone while
they were drugged had wiped out that memory completely, while leaving
their memory of the second tone intact.

LeDoux’s team also confirms the idea that a part of the brain called
the amygdala is central to this process – communication between
neurons in this part of the brain usually increases when a fearful
memory forms, but it decreases in the treated rats. This shows that
the fearful memory is actually deleted, rather than simply breaking
the link between the memory and a fearful response.

Greg Quirk, a neurophysiologist from the Ponce School of Medicine in
Puerto Rico, thinks that psychiatrists working to treat patients with
conditions such as PTSD will be encouraged by the step forward. “These
drugs would be adjuncts to therapy,” he says. “This is the future of
psychiatry – neuroscience will provide tools to help it become more
effective.”

BUT UNTIL THEN

http://www.courant.com/news/specials/hc-mental1a.artmay14,0,6150281.story?coll=hc-specials-top

Mentally Unfit, Forced To Fight

May 14, 2006
By LISA CHEDEKEL And MATTHEW KAUFFMAN, The Hartford Courant

The U.S. military is sending troops with serious psychological
problems into Iraq and is keeping soldiers in combat even after
superiors have been alerted to suicide warnings and other signs of
mental illness, a Courant investigation has found.

Despite a congressional order that the military assess the mental
health of all deploying troops, fewer than 1 in 300 service members
see a mental health professional before shipping out.

Once at war, some unstable troops are kept on the front lines while on
potent antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, with little or no
counseling or medical monitoring.

And some troops who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after
serving in Iraq are being sent back to the war zone, increasing the
risk to their mental health.

These practices, which have received little public scrutiny and in
some cases violate the military’s own policies, have helped to fuel an
increase in the suicide rate among troops serving in Iraq, which
reached an all-time high in 2005 when 22 soldiers killed themselves –
accounting for nearly one in five of all Army non-combat deaths.

The Courant’s investigation found that at least 11 service members who
committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite
exhibiting signs of significant psychological distress. In at least
seven of the cases, superiors were aware of the problems, military
investigative records and interviews with families indicate.

Among the troops who plunged through the gaps in the mental health
system was Army Spec. Jeffrey Henthorn, a young father and third-
generation soldier, whose death last year is still being mourned by
his native Choctaw, Okla.

What his hometown does not know is that Henthorn, 25, had been sent
back to Iraq for a second tour, even though his superiors knew he was
unstable and had threatened suicide at least twice, according to Army
investigative reports and interviews. When he finally succeeded in
killing himself on Feb. 8, 2005, at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, an
Army report says, the work of the M-16 rifle was so thorough that
fragments of his skull pierced the barracks ceiling.

In a case last July, a 20-year-old soldier who had written a suicide
note to his mother was relieved of his gun and referred for a
psychological evaluation, but then was accused of faking his mental
problems and warned he could be disciplined, according to what he told
his family. Three weeks later, after his gun had been handed back,
Pfc. Jason Scheuerman, of Lynchburg, Va., used it to end his life.

Also kept in the war zone was Army Pfc. David L. Potter, 22, of
Johnson City, Tenn., who was diagnosed with anxiety and depression
while serving in Iraq in 2004. Potter remained with his unit in
Baghdad despite a suicide attempt and a psychiatrist’s recommendation
that he be separated from the Army, records show. Ten days after the
recommendation was signed, he slid a gun out from under another
soldier’s bed, climbed to the second floor of an abandoned building
and shot himself through the mouth, the Army has concluded.

The spike in suicides among the all-volunteer force is a setback for
military officials, who had pledged in late 2003 to improve mental
health services, after expressing alarm that 11 soldiers and two
Marines had killed themselves in Iraq in the first seven months of the
war. When the number of suicides tumbled in 2004, top Army officials
had credited their renewed prevention efforts.

But The Courant’s review found that since 2003, the military has
increasingly sent, kept and recycled troubled troops into combat –
practices that undercut its assurances of improvements. Besides
causing suicides, experts say, gaps in mental health care can cause
violence between soldiers, accidents and critical mistakes in judgment
during combat operations.

Military experts and advocates point to recruiting shortfalls and
intense wartime pressure to maintain troop levels as reasons more
service members with psychiatric problems are being deployed to the
war zone and kept there.

“What you have is a military stretched so thin, they’ve resorted to
keeping psychologically unfit soldiers at the front,” said Stephen
Robinson, the former longtime director of the National Gulf War
Resource Center. “It’s a policy that can do an awful lot of damage
over time.”

Army officials confirmed that 22 soldiers killed themselves in Iraq,
and three in Afghanistan, in 2005. The Army suicide rate was about 20
per 100,000 soldiers serving in Iraq – nearly double the 2004 rate,
and higher than the 2003 rate that had prompted alarm. Three Marines
also committed suicide in Iraq last year.

The military does not discuss or even identify individual suicide
cases, which are grouped with other non-combat deaths. The Courant
identified suicide victims through Army investigative reports and
interviews with families.

Although The Courant determined that a spate of six suicides occurred
within eight weeks last year, from late May to July, there is no
indication that the military took steps to respond to the cluster.

While the 2005 jump in self-inflicted deaths was as pronounced as the
2003 spike that had stirred action, Army officials said last week that
there were no immediate plans to change the approach or resources
targeted to mental health. They said they had confidence in the
initiatives put in place two years ago – additional combat stress
teams to treat deployed troops and increased suicide prevention
programs.

Col. Elspeth Ritchie, the top psychiatry expert for the Army surgeon
general, said that while the Army is reviewing the 2005 suicides as a
way to gauge its mental health efforts, “suicide rates go up and down,
and we expect some variation.”

Ritchie said the mental health of troops remains a priority as the war
enters its fourth year. But she also acknowledged that some practices,
such as sending service members diagnosed with PTSD back into combat,
have been driven in part by a troop shortage.

“The challenge for us … is that the Army has a mission to fight.
And as you know, recruiting has been a challenge,” she said. “And so
we have to weigh the needs of the Army, the needs of the mission, with
the soldiers’ personal needs.”

But The Courant’s investigation shows that troubled soldiers are
getting lost in the balance:

Under the military’s pre-deployment screening process, troops with
serious mental disorders are not being identified – and others whose
mental illness is known are being deployed anyway.

A law passed in 1997 requires the military to conduct an “assessment
of mental health” on all deploying troops. But the “assessment” now
being used is a single mental health question on a pre-deployment form
filled out by service members.

Even using that limited tool, troops who self-report psychological
problems are rarely referred for evaluations by mental health
professionals, Department of Defense records obtained by The Courant
indicate. From March 2003 to October 2005, only 6.5 percent of
deploying service members who indicated a mental health problem were
referred for evaluations; overall, fewer than 1 in 300 deploying
troops, or 0.3 percent, were referred.

That rate of referral is dramatically lower than the more than 9
percent of deploying troops that the Army itself acknowledges in
studies have serious psychiatric disorders.

In addition, despite its pledges in 2004 to improve mental health
care, the military was more likely to deploy troops who indicated
psychological problems in 2005 than it was during the first year of
the war, the data show.

The Courant found that at least seven, or about one-third, of the 22
soldiers who killed themselves in Iraq in 2005 had been deployed less
than three months, raising questions about the adequacy of pre-
deployment screening. Some of them had exhibited earlier signs of
distress.

Also, at least three soldiers who killed themselves since the war
began were deployed despite serious mental conditions, including
bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The military relies increasingly on antidepressants, some with
potentially dangerous side effects, to keep troops with known
psychological problems in the war zone.

Military investigative reports and interviews with family members
indicate that some service members who committed suicide in 2004 and
2005 were kept on duty despite clear signs of mental distress,
sometimes after being prescribed antidepressants, including a class of
drugs known as SSRIs.

In one case, a 26-year-old Marine who was having trouble sleeping was
put on a strong dose of Zoloft, an SSRI that carries a warning urging
doctors to closely monitor new patients for suicidal urges. Last
April, within two months of starting the drug, the Marine killed
himself in Iraq.

Some service members who experienced depression or stress before or
during deployments to Iraq described being placed on Zoloft,
Wellbutrin and other antidepressants, with little or no mental health
counseling or monitoring. Some of the drugs carry warnings of an
increased risk of suicide, within the first weeks of their use.

Those anecdotal findings conflict with regulations adopted last year
by the Army cautioning that antidepressants for cases of moderate or
severe depression “are not usually suitable for extended deployments.”

Also, the military’s top health official, Assistant Defense Secretary
William Winkenwerder Jr., indicated in testimony to Congress last
summer that service members were being allowed to deploy on
psychotropic medications only when their conditions had “fully
resolved.”

The use of psychiatric drugs has alarmed some medical experts and
ethicists, who say the medications cannot be properly monitored in a
war zone. The Army’s own reports indicate that the availability and
use of such medications in Iraq and Kuwait have increased since
mid-2004, when a team of psychiatrists approved making Prozac, Zoloft,
Trazodone, Ambien and other drugs more widely available throughout the
combat zone.

“I can’t imagine something more irresponsible than putting a soldier
suffering from stress on SSRIs, when you know these drugs can cause
people to become suicidal and homicidal,” said Vera Sharav, president
of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, a patient advocacy
group. “You’re creating chemically activated time bombs.”

The military is sending troops back into combat for second and third
tours despite diagnoses of PTSD or other combat-related psychological
problems – a practice that some mental health experts fear will fuel
incidents of suicide and violence among troops abroad and at home.

Although Department of Defense standards for enlistment in the armed
forces disqualify recruits who suffer from PTSD, the military is
redeploying service members to Iraq who fit that criteria. The
practice, which military experts concede is driven partly by pressure
to maintain troop levels, runs counter to accepted medical doctrine
and research, which cautions that re-exposure to trauma increases the
risk of psychological problems.

At least seven troops who are believed to have committed suicide in
2005 and early 2006, and one who has been charged with killing a
fellow soldier, were serving second or third tours in Iraq. Some of
them had exhibited signs of combat stress after their first
deployments, according to family members and friends.

Some soldiers now serving second tours in Iraq say they are wrestling
with debilitating PTSD symptoms, despite being placed on medications.

Jason Sedotal, a 21-year-old military policeman from Pierre Part, La.,
returned home in March 2005 after seven months in Iraq, during which a
Humvee he was driving rolled over a land mine, badly injuring his
sergeant. After completing his tour, Sedotal was diagnosed with PTSD
and placed on Prozac, he said.

Last October, after being transferred to a new unit, he was shipped
back to Iraq for a one-year tour. During a short visit home last week,
he described being wracked by nightmares and depression and convinced
that “somebody’s following me.” When he conveyed his symptoms to a
doctor at Fort Polk in Louisiana last Tuesday, he said, he was given a
higher dose of medication and the sleeping pill Ambien and told that
he was to go back to Iraq.

“I can’t keep going through this mentally. All they do is fill me up
on medicine and send me back,” he said. “What’s this going to do to me
in the future? I’m going to be 60 years old, hiding under my kitchen
table? I’m real scared.”

More than 378,000 active-duty, Reserve and National Guard troops have
served more than one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, representing nearly
a third of the 1.3 million troops who have been deployed, according to
Department of Defense statistics. That repeat exposure to combat could
dramatically increase the percentage of soldiers and Marines who
experience PTSD, major depression or other disorders, some experts
say.

Recent studies have estimated that at least 18 percent of returning
Iraq veterans are at risk of developing PTSD after just one combat
tour.

“The [Department of Defense] is in the business of keeping people
deployable,” said Cathleen Wiblemo, deputy director for health care
for the American Legion. “What the consequences of that are, we
haven’t begun to see.

“This is uncharted territory. You’re looking at guys being extended or
sent back multiple times into an extremely stressful situation, which
is different than past wars. … I think the number of troops that
will be affected, it will be a huge number.”

Preserving The Force

Military officials insist they have made aggressive efforts to improve
mental health services to troops in Iraq in the past two years. After
the spate of suicides in 2003, the Army dispatched a mental health
advisory team, which issued a report recommending additional combat-
stress specialists to treat troops close to the front lines, and
encouraging training and outreach to reduce the stigma associated with
mental health problems.

A follow-up report, released January 2005, cited the drop in suicides
in 2004 as evidence that the Army’s efforts were successful. It also
highlighted a decline in the number of soldiers who were evacuated out
of Iraq for mental health problems – from about 75 a month in 2003 to
36 a month in 2004. In 2005, an average of 46 soldiers were evacuated
each month, Army data show.

Overall, barely more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 1.3 million
troops who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been
evacuated because of psychiatric problems.

Both advisory team reports recommended that soldiers with mental
health problems be kept in the combat zone in order to improve return-
to-duty rates and help soldiers avoid being labeled unfit.

“If you take people out of their unit and send them home, they have
the shame and the stigma,” said Ritchie, the Army’s mental health
expert.

But with the suicide rate climbing, the emphasis on treating
psychologically damaged soldiers in the war zone is raising new
questions.

“You think it’s a stigma to be sent home from the Iraq war? That might
be the line they’re using” to justify retaining troops, said Dr.
Arthur S. Blank Jr., a psychiatrist who formerly served as national
director of the Veterans Administration’s counseling centers. “I
wouldn’t say that.”

Mental health specialists who have served in Iraq acknowledge that
their main goal, under military guidelines, is to preserve the
fighting force. Some have grappled with making tough calls about how
much more stress a soldier can handle.

“You have to become comfortable with things we wouldn’t normally be
comfortable with,” said Bob Johnson, a psychologist in Atlanta who
counseled soldiers last year as chief of combat stress control for the
Army’s 2nd Brigade. “If there were an endless supply [of soldiers],
the compassionate side of you just wants to get these people out of
here. They’re miserable. You can see it in their faces. But I had to
kind of put that aside.”

Army statistics show that 59 soldiers killed themselves in Iraq
through the end of last year – 25 in 2003, 12 in 2004, and 22 in 2005.
Twelve Marine deaths also have been ruled self-inflicted.

The only confirmed Connecticut suicide is that of Army Pfc. Jeffrey
Braun, 19, of Stafford, who died in December 2003. His father, William
Braun, told The Courant he still did not have a full explanation of
what happened to Jeffrey, but said, “I’ve chosen not to pursue it or
question it. It’s over and done with.”

Military data show that deaths in Iraq due to all non-combat causes,
such as accidents, rose by 32 percent from 2004 to 2005. Of the more
than 500 non-combat deaths among all service branches since the start
of the war, gunshot wounds were the second-leading cause of death,
behind vehicle crashes but ahead of heart attacks and other medical
ailments.

While many families of service members who died of non-combat causes
say they are not familiar with military deployment policies, some
question whether the military knowingly put their loved ones at risk.

Among them are relatives of Army Spec. Michael S. Deem, a 35-year-old
father of two, who was deployed to Iraq in January 2005 despite a
history of depression that family members say was known to the
military. Shortly before Deem deployed, a military psychiatrist gave
him a long-term supply of Prozac to help him handle the stress, his
wife said.

Just 3½ weeks after he arrived in Iraq, Deem died in his sleep of what
the Army later determined was an enlarged heart “complicated by
elevated levels of fluoxetine” – the generic name for Prozac.

Family members of some troops whose deaths have been labeled suicides
complain that the military has given them limited information about
the circumstances of the deaths. Some have had to wait more than a
year for autopsies and investigative reports, which they say still
leave questions unanswered.

Barbara Butler, mother of Army National Guard 1st Lt. Debra A.
Banaszak, 35, of Bloomington, Ill., said she has trouble understanding
why her daughter would have taken her own life in Kuwait last October,
as the military has determined. She said that while Banaszak, the
single mother of a teenage son, was proud to serve her country and had
not complained, the stresses of the deployment may have exacerbated
her depression.

“She was used to being in charge and being a leader, but never in
these circumstances,” said Butler. “If the Army is right that she did
this, it was nothing she would have done ordinarily. It was that war
that brought it about.”

Recognizing Trouble

Some autopsy and investigative reports obtained by The Courant make
clear that service members who committed suicide were experiencing
serious psychological problems during deployment.

In the months before Army Pfc. Samuel Lee, of Anaheim, Calif., killed
himself in March 2005, an investigative report says, the 19-year-old
had talked to fellow soldiers about a dream in which he tried to kill
his sergeant before taking his own life, and of kidnapping, raping and
killing Iraqi children. Three times, a soldier recounted in a sworn
statement, Lee had pointed his gun at himself and depressed the
trigger, stopping just before a round fired.

But two of Lee’s superiors gave statements saying they did not realize
Lee was having trouble until the day he balanced the butt of his rifle
on a cot, put his mouth over the muzzle and fired.

But a number of other reports on 2004 and 2005 suicides indicate that
military superiors were aware that soldiers were self-destructing.

Among them was Army Staff Sgt. Cory W. Brooks, 32, of Philip, S.D.,
who shot himself in the head on April 24, 2004. In sworn statements, a
major and first lieutenant acknowledged they had conducted
“counseling” with Brooks, and a first sergeant “detailed his knowledge
of SSG Brooks’ suicidal ideations.”

Brooks’ father, Darral, said he believes his son’s death stemmed from
a combination of personal and combat-related stress, and he does not
blame the military for retaining him in Iraq.

“Cory was a dedicated soldier. He wanted to be there,” he said. “If
his captain told him to walk off a cliff, he’d do it.”

But in other cases in which superiors retained a soldier who was
experiencing mental health problems, families are not so forgiving.

Ann Scheuerman, mother of the soldier who shot himself after his
suicide note was discounted by Army officials, said her family has had
a frustrating time getting the military to acknowledge mistakes in the
way her son was treated.

“We wanted to make sure that whatever protocol they have in place is
used, and if it doesn’t work, fix it,” Scheuerman said. “And to date,
we’re just not getting anything at all.

“Nothing can bring back my son,” she said. “But if something can be
done to prevent any more deaths, then if I offend a couple of people,
I’ll go ahead and apologize up front. Go ahead and come after me, but
something needs to be done.”

Family members of Jeffrey Henthorn, the Choctaw, Okla., native, are
concerned that the Army ignored blatant warnings that Henthorn was
suicidal.

An investigative report into Henthorn’s death contains statements
indicating that Henthorn’s “chain of command” was aware that he had
tried to harm himself in November 2004 – by slashing his arm
“intentionally, in a [horizontal] manner” – in the weeks leading up to
his second deployment to Iraq, while he was stationed at Fort Riley in
Kansas.

Then, soon after his deployment in December, a distressed Henthorn
took his gun into a latrine in Kuwait and charged it, in what fellow
soldiers feared was a suicide gesture. Although his superiors at the
scene grabbed the weapon away, his platoon sergeant returned the gun
the same day, after talking to Henthorn for about a half-hour,
according to a sworn statement. The platoon’s first lieutenant was
notified, but there is no indication that Henthorn was referred for a
mental health evaluation or counseling.

Eighteen days later, after crossing into Iraq with his unit, Henthorn
finished what he had started.

“If you lock yourself in a latrine for 10 minutes with your gun and
threaten to hurt yourself, you don’t just get your gun back. You get
relieved of duty and sent home,” said Henthorn’s father, Warren, who
is still struggling to understand what happened to his only son.

“It’s the same as Vietnam – all they care about is the numbers in the
field,” he said. “That’s all that matters, having the numbers.”

Ritchie insisted the military is working hard to prevent suicides,
which she said is a challenge, given that soldiers have access to
weapons.

“When you go back, in retrospect, there may be warning signs,” she
acknowledged.

Addressing The Courant’s findings, she added, “What you don’t see from
that are the other cases that perhaps had the same warning signs and
were kept in [the combat] theater and went on to do OK in their job.”

While they would not comment on particular cases, Ritchie and other
military officials said they believe most commanders are alert to
mental health problems and open to referring troubled soldiers for
treatment. It is commanders, not medical professionals, who have final
say over whether a troubled soldier is retained in the war zone.

“I think the majority of our commanders are very receptive,” Ritchie
said.

But some service members say commanders’ sensitivity to mental health
issues varies.

“As a practical matter, the quality … of the military’s mental
health care professional is uneven,” said Maj. Andrew Efaw, a judge
advocate general officer in the Army Reserve who handled trial defense
for soldiers in northern Iraq last year. “Likewise, the understanding
of mental health issues by commanders may also be spotty.”

He said commanders weighing whether a service member should be
retained have to be mindful of how their troops will perceive the
decision.

“Your average commander doesn’t want to deal with a whacked-out
soldier. But on the other hand, he doesn’t want to send a message to
his troops that if you act up, he’s willing to send you home,” Efaw
said.

Some troops and their families say the military has not made good on
its pledge to make mental health care easily accessible in the field.

Summer Lipford of Statesville, N.C., said she urged her son, Pfc.
Steven Sirko, to talk to a counselor in April of last year, after he
complained in a phone call from Iraq that he was having nightmares,
losing weight and not sleeping.

“I asked Steven, `If you’re having dreams that are so [messed] up, why
don’t you go talk to somebody?'” Lipford recalled. “He said, `Yeah,
Mom, like that’s gonna happen.’ He said it was an act of God to get to
see somebody.”

Four days later, Sirko, a 20-year-old medic, injected himself with
vecuronium, an anesthetic that causes muscular paralysis, and died of
an accidental overdose, according to what the military has told
Lipford.

Some returning troops acknowledge that their own fear of being
stigmatized kept them from seeking psychological help during
deployments. Despite the military’s efforts to improve mental health
care, soldiers’ perceptions of a stigma associated with seeking such
care remained unchanged between 2004 and 2005, with more than half of
the soldiers surveyed by Army teams expressing concerns that they
would be viewed as weak.

Matthew Denton, a Camp Pendleton Marine and helicopter mechanic, said
he spent most of his six-month deployment in 2005 quietly
contemplating his own death aboard a ship in the Persian Gulf.

“My head was in a scary place. I remember thinking, `I can’t believe
I’m working on a $14 million aircraft. I just don’t care about this,'”
he said. “When I’d come out of my daze, I was worried about messing up
and endangering the life of my guys.”

Denton, 30, said his depression was easy to keep secret – pre- and
post-deployment health screenings were self-reported, and commanders
hustling Marines through six-month rotations never probed his mental
state.

Now back home, Denton, who is being treated for depression, isn’t sure
whether he managed to stay below the radar – or whether there was any
radar to stay below.

http://www.netscape.com/viewstory/2006/08/28/scientists-can-erase-memory-by-inhibiting-molecule-in-brain/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.whatsnextnetwork.com%2Fhealth%2Findex.php%2Fa%2F2006%2F08%2F28%2Fremember_the_memory_erasing_wand_in_men_&frame=true

Remember the memory erasing wand in ‘Men In Black’? – Scientists can
erase memory by inhibiting molecule in brain

In an article in Science magazine, SUNY Downstate researchers describe
erasing memory from the brain by targeting a molecular mechanism that
controls memory. Finding may be applied to chronic pain, memory loss,
and other conditions.

Scientists at SUNY Downstate Medical Center have discovered a
molecular mechanism that maintains memories in the brain. In an
article in Science magazine, they demonstrate that by inhibiting the
molecule they can erase long-term memories, much as you might erase a
computer disc.

Furthermore, erasing the memory from the brain does not prevent the
ability to re-learn the memory, much as a cleaned computer disc may be
re-used. This finding may some day have applications in treating
chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and memory loss, among
other conditions.

The SUNY Downstate researchers reported in the August 25 issue of
Science that an enzyme molecule called “protein kinase M zeta”
preserves long-term memories through persistent strengthening of
synaptic connections between neurons. This is analogous to the
mechanism storing information as 0’s and 1’s in a computer’s hard
disc. By inhibiting the enzyme, scientists were able to erase a memory
that had been stored for one day, or even one month. This function in
memory storage is specific to protein kinase M zeta, because
inhibiting related molecules did not disrupt memory.

These findings may be useful for the treatment of disorders
characterized by the pathological over-strengthening of synaptic
connections, such as neuropathic pain, phantom limb syndrome,
dystonia, and post-traumatic stress. Conversely, the identification of
the core molecular mechanism for memory storage may focus effort on
the development of specific therapeutic agents that enhance memory
persistence and prevent memory loss. Earlier this year, SUNY Downstate
scientists reported that PKMzeta was bound up in the tangles of
Alzheimer’s disease, thus perhaps blocking its function in memory
storage.