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Selective Memory Deletion In Mice

Selective memory deletion has been accomplished in mice, according to scientists from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and the East China Normal University in Shanghai.

A mouse might not be able to recall a memory for two reasons, Joe Tsien, a neuroscientist at the Medical College of Georgia, says. “Either you can’t open the door to get the memory, or you can open the door but there’s no memory there.”

Altering [kinase enzyme] alpha-CaMKII’s activity erases memories as they are being retrieved, the researchers found. And the erasure is specific to the memory being recalled.

The researchers placed mice in a chamber and played a sound, then mildly shocked the mice’s feet. The mice learned to associate both the chamber and the sound with a shock and would freeze in anticipation of getting shocked when they entered the chamber or heard the sound.

Once the mouse learned to associate both the chamber and sound with getting shocked, the researchers replayed one of the conditions while altering activity of alpha-CaMKII. If the researchers placed the mouse in the chamber but didn’t play the sound, only the memory of the chamber was erased when alpha-CaMKII’s activity was altered. When tested again later, the mouse forgot to freeze when placed in the chamber, but the mouse would still freeze when it heard the sound. And if conditions were reversed and alpha-CaMKII activity was altered when the mouse was recalling that the sound signals a shock, the sound memory was erased. But the mice still remembered to freeze when entering the chamber. Those results show that erasure is limited only to the portion of the memory being recalled.

Memory erasure and selective memory deletion are popular themes in science fiction. In his 1966 short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Philip K. Dick wrote about memory erasure.

In Requiem for Methuselah, a 1967 Star Trek episode, Spock helps Kirk forget a specific memory of lost love.


("Forget" stated forcefully during Vulcan mind-meld)

In his 1982 novel Mindkiller, Spider Robinson refers to mindwipe, the complete erasure of particular memory contents.

In the 1997 movie Men in Black, MIB members have a neuralizer that can delete memories from specific periods of time.


(Neuralizer from Men in Black (MIB))

In the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey play lovers who have a falling out. Winslet's character goes to a company called Lacuna, Inc. to have her memories of the relationship removed.


(Jim Carrey gets spotless)

From Selective Memory. Thanks also to Adi for writing in about this one.

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