Scientists Use Lasers To Reverse Emotions Associated With Memory
A new article published in the journal Nature highlights researchers who claim to be able to reprogram the emotions associated with memories in mice using light to change the activity of neurons.
Memories are made up of separate elements, each stored in different areas of the brain. There is the context of the memory, which is the information about where and when the event occurred. That’s stored in the hippocampus region of the brain. The emotional context of the memory, however, is stored elsewhere, in a region called the amygdala.
This implies that a memory and the emotions attached to it are completely independent, giving truth to the old adage that a person’s reactions to an event are more important than the event itself. Even more interesting is the prospect that a person might be able to change the emotions connected to a memory.
Therapists have been working in this direction for patients with depression or PTSD, but never before has the actual direct mechanism been identified or manipulated.
Scientists at MIT used an interesting system in which they were able to “mark” certain memories in the hippocampus region with a light sensitive protein. This allowed the researchers to “activate” that memory at will with a laser.
While the idea of being able to activate memories with laser beams seems incredible enough, the researchers then took it a step further by labeling either an unpleasant (electric shock) or pleasant (socializing with the opposite sex) memory. They then stimulated that memory when the mice were in a certain part of the arena where the mice lived.
After a while, they then reversed the process and stimulated the opposite emotional context for the physical area of the arena. What they found was that they could encourage the mice to stay in one area or leave it simply by stimulating different emotional memories.
In other words, by using lasers to activate certain neurons, the researchers could change how the mice “felt” about certain areas of where they lived. The emotional context of the memory had been altered externally.
They then tried to do it again with another region of the brain, the amygdala, but it didn’t work. Their conclusion was that memories stored in the hippocampus region get connected to emotional states that are stored in the amydala, and those pathways can be changed.
In other words, memories are memories, feelings are feelings, but which feelings are attached to our memories is completely up for grabs. The links between the two are not pre-ordained or permanent.
So the next time you’re feeling awful about something, and can’t imagine ever feeling anything else, think again. Soon, you might be just a few laser beams away from feeling better about the situation.
Whiplash Injuries Reach Epidemic Proportions
Most of us think of “whiplash” injuries as mostly a mere annoyance; a sore neck which is bothersome for a while, but just sort of goes away without much trouble.
Statistics show that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, alarming numbers of people are being seriously injured, even crippled, each year in what some health researchers are calling a “silent epidemic”.
Keep in mind that these numbers are only for so-called “LOSRIC”, or “LOw Speed Rear Impact Collison”. In other words, side or frontal impacts aren’t included in these statistics, nor are high-speed rear end collisions.
Each year, nearly six MILLION people (drivers and occupants) are involved in a LOSRIC. Since these collisions are low-speed, many of them don’t even damage the bumper of the target vehicle. However, since most bumpers are designed to take a 7-10 mph collision without being damaged, and since studies have shown that even healthy individuals can suffer whiplash-type symptoms at speeds as low as 4 or 5 mph, the percentage of those six million who are actually injured is significant.
A staggering three million of those people will end up with some degree of injury from the collision. To put that into perspective, that’s about the population of South Carolina.
About half of those injured, or 1.5 million, will develop chronic pain as a result of the accident. Again, to put this into perspective, that’s approximately the population of Nebraska. Finally, about 10% of those injured- that’s 300,000 people EACH YEAR– actually become permanently disabled from the injuries sustained in the crash.
Why isn’t there more awareness? Partly because of the nature of the injury- it isn’t the “flavor of the month” like Ebola or enteroviruses, and it doesn’t have a sexy techno-solution in the form of a cutting edge new drug that will swoop in and heroically save the day.
The fact is, these injuries need to be taken seriously, and addressed properly from the beginning. Whiplash injuries are costing the American public too much to continue to ignore them.