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NewsToBeRead
2009-04-06 23:46:03 EST
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/health/research/06brain.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

Brain Power
Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory
By BENEDICT CAREY

Published: April 5, 2009

Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single
substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic
loss, even a bad habit.

Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a
single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical
for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial
knowledge or motor skills.

The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs
to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance
could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.

So far, the research has been done only on animals. But scientists say this
memory system is likely to work almost identically in people.

The discovery of such an apparently critical memory molecule, and its many
potential uses, are part of the buzz surrounding a field that, in just the
past few years, has made the seemingly impossible suddenly probable:
neuroscience, the study of the brain.

"If this molecule is as important as it appears to be, you can see the
possible implications," said Dr. Todd C. Sacktor, a 52-year-old
neuroscientist who leads the team at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in
Brooklyn, which demonstrated its effect on memory. "For trauma. For
addiction, which is a learned behavior. Ultimately for improving memory and
learning."

Artists and writers have led the exploration of identity, consciousness and
memory for centuries. Yet even as scientists sent men to the moon and
spacecraft to Saturn and submarines to the ocean floor, the instrument
responsible for such feats, the human mind, remained almost entirely dark, a
vast and mostly uncharted universe as mysterious as the New World was to
explorers of the past.

Now neuroscience, a field that barely existed a generation ago, is racing
ahead, attracting billions of dollars in new financing and throngs of
researchers. The National Institutes of Health last year spent $5.2 billion,
nearly 20 percent of its total budget, on brain-related projects, according
to the Society for Neuroscience.

Endowments like the Wellcome Trust and the Kavli Foundation have poured in
hundreds of millions of dollars more, establishing institutes at
universities around the world, including Columbia and Yale.

The influx of money, talent and technology means that scientists are at last
finding real answers about the brain - and raising questions, both
scientific and ethical, more quickly than anyone can answer them.

Millions of people might be tempted to erase a severely painful memory, for
instance - but what if, in the process, they lost other, personally
important memories that were somehow related? Would a treatment that
"cleared" the learned habits of addiction only tempt people to experiment
more widely?

And perhaps even more important, when scientists find a drug to strengthen
memory, will everyone feel compelled to use it?

The stakes, and the wide-open opportunities possible in brain science, will
only accelerate the pace of discovery.

"In this field we are merely at the foothills of an enormous mountain
range," said Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia, "and unlike
in other areas of science, it is still possible for an individual or small
group to make important contributions, without any great expenditure or some
enormous lab."

Dr. Sacktor is one of hundreds of researchers trying to answer a question
that has dumbfounded thinkers since the beginning of modern inquiry: How on
earth can a clump of tissue possibly capture and store everything - poems,
emotional reactions, locations of favorite bars, distant childhood scenes?
The idea that experience leaves some trace in the brain goes back at least
to Plato's Theaetetus metaphor of a stamp on wax, and in 1904 the German
scholar Richard Semon gave that ghostly trace a name: the engram.

What could that engram actually be?

The answer, previous research suggests, is that brain cells activated by an
experience keep one another on biological speed-dial, like a group of people
joined in common witness of some striking event. Call on one and word
quickly goes out to the larger network of cells, each apparently adding some
detail, sight, sound, smell. The brain appears to retain a memory by growing
thicker, or more efficient, communication lines between these cells.

The billion-dollar question is how?

In the decades since this process was described in the 1960s and 1970s,
scientists have found scores of molecules that play some role in the
process. But for years the field struggled to pinpoint the purpose each one
serves. The problem was not that such substances were so hard to find - on
the contrary.

In a 1999 paper in the journal Nature Neuroscience, two of the most
prominent researchers in brain science, Dr. Jeff W. Lichtman and Joshua R.
Sanes of Harvard, listed 117 molecules that were somehow involved when one
cell creates a lasting speed-dial connection with a neighbor, a process
known as "long-term potentiation."

They did not see that these findings were necessarily clarifying the picture
of how memories are formed. But an oddball substance right there on their
own list, it turned out, had unusual properties.

A Helpful Nudge

"You know, my dad was the one who told me to look at this molecule - he was
a scientist too, my dad, he's dead now but he had these instincts - so
anyway that's how it all started," Dr. Sacktor was saying. He was driving
from his home in Yonkers to his laboratory in the East Flatbush neighborhood
of Brooklyn, with three quiches and bag of bagels bouncing in the back seat.
Lunch for the lab.

The father's advice led the son, eventually, to a substance called PKMzeta.
In a series of studies, Dr. Sacktor's lab found that this molecule was
present and activated in cells precisely when they were put on speed-dial by
a neighboring neuron.

In fact, the PKMzeta molecules appeared to herd themselves, like Army
Rangers occupying a small peninsula, into precisely the fingerlike
connections among brain cells that were strengthened. And they stayed there,
indefinitely, like biological sentries.

In short: PKMzeta, a wallflower in the great swimming party of chemicals
that erupts when one cell stimulates another, looked as if it might be the
one that kept the speed-dial function turned on.

"After that," Dr. Sacktor said, "we began to focus solely on PKMzeta to see
how critical it really was to behavior."

Running a lab is something like fielding a weekend soccer team. Players come
and go, from Europe, India, Asia, Grand Rapids. You move players around,
depending on their skills. And you bring lunch, because doctoral students
logging 12-hour days in a yellowing shotgun lab in East Flatbush need to
eat.

"People think that state schools like ours are low-key, laid back, and they're
right, we are," said Robert K. S. Wong, chairman of the physiology and
pharmacology department at SUNY Downstate, who brought Dr. Sacktor with him
from Columbia. "You have less pressure to apply for grants, and you can take
more time, I think, to work out your ideas."

To find out what, if anything, PKMzeta meant for living, breathing animals,
Dr. Sacktor walked a flight downstairs to the lab of Andr\ufffd A. Fenton, also
of SUNY Downstate, who studies spatial memory in mice and rats.

Dr. Fenton had already devised a clever way to teach animals strong memories
for where things are located. He teaches them to move around a small chamber
to avoid a mild electric shock to their feet. Once the animals learn, they
do not forget. Placed back in the chamber a day later, even a month later,
they quickly remember how to avoid the shock and do so.

But when injected - directly into their brain - with a drug called ZIP that
interferes with PKMzeta, they are back to square one, almost immediately.
"When we first saw this happen, I had grad students throwing their hands up
in the air, yelling," Dr. Fenton said. "Well, we needed a lot more than
that" one study.

They now have it. Dr. Fenton's lab repeated the experiment, in various ways;
so has a consortium of memory researchers, each using a different method.
Researchers led by Yadin Dudai at the Weizmann Institute of Science in
Israel found that one dose of ZIP even made rats forget a strong disgust
they had developed for a taste that had made them sick - three months
earlier.

A Conscience Blocker?

"This possibility of memory editing has enormous possibilities and raises
huge ethical issues," said Dr. Steven E. Hyman, a neurobiologist at Harvard.
"On the one hand, you can imagine a scenario in which a person enters a
setting which elicits traumatic memories, but now has a drug that weakens
those memories as they come up. Or, in the case of addiction, a drug that
weakens the associations that stir craving."

Researchers have already tried to blunt painful memories and addictive urges
using existing drugs; blocking PKMzeta could potentially be far more
effective.

Yet any such drug, Dr. Hyman and others argue, could be misused to erase or
block memories of bad behavior, even of crimes. If traumatic memories are
like malicious stalkers, then troubling memories - and a healthy dread of
them - form the foundation of a moral conscience.

For those studying the biology of memory, the properties of PKMzeta promise
something grander still: the prospect of retooling the engram factory
itself. By 2050 more than 100 million people worldwide will have Alzheimer's
disease or other dementias, scientists estimate, and far more will struggle
with age-related memory decline.

"This is really the biggest target, and we have some ideas of how you might
try to do it, for instance to get cells to make more PKMzeta," Dr. Sacktor
said. "But these are only ideas at this stage."

A substance that improved memory would immediately raise larger social
concerns, as well. "We know that people already use smart drugs and
performance enhancers of all kinds, so a substance that actually improved
memory could lead to an arms race," Dr. Hyman said.

Many questions in the science remain. For instance, can PKMzeta really link
a network of neurons for a lifetime? If so, how? Most molecules live for no
more than weeks at a time.

And how does it work with the many other substances that appear to be
important in creating a memory?

"There is not going to be one, single memory molecule, the system is just
not that simple," said Thomas J. Carew, a neuroscientist at the University
of California, Irvine, and president of the Society for Neuroscience. "There
are going to be many molecules involved, in different kinds of memories, all
along the process of learning, storage and retrieval."

Yet as scientists begin to climb out of the dark foothills and into the dim
light, they are now poised to alter the understanding of human nature in
ways artists and writers have not.




StraightDrive
2009-04-07 06:12:48 EST
/
"NewsToBeRead" <NewsToBeRead@USA.Com> wrote in message
news:grei8c$ofl$1@aioe.org...
> http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/health/research/06brain.html?hp=&pagewanted=all
>
> Brain Power
> Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory
> By BENEDICT CAREY
>
> Published: April 5, 2009
>
> Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single
> substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic
> loss, even a bad habit.
>
> Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with
> a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain
> critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional
> associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.
>
> The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently
> needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the
> substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.
>
> So far, the research has been done only on animals. But scientists say
> this memory system is likely to work almost identically in people.
>
> The discovery of such an apparently critical memory molecule, and its many
> potential uses, are part of the buzz surrounding a field that, in just the
> past few years, has made the seemingly impossible suddenly probable:
> neuroscience, the study of the brain.
>
> "If this molecule is as important as it appears to be, you can see the
> possible implications," said Dr. Todd C. Sacktor, a 52-year-old
> neuroscientist who leads the team at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in
> Brooklyn, which demonstrated its effect on memory. "For trauma. For
> addiction, which is a learned behavior. Ultimately for improving memory
> and learning."
>
>
> Now neuroscience, a field that barely existed a generation ago, is racing
> ahead, attracting billions of dollars in new financing and throngs of
> researchers. The National Institutes of Health last year spent $5.2
> billion, nearly 20 percent of its total budget, on brain-related projects,
> according to the Society for Neuroscience.
>
> Endowments like the Wellcome Trust and the Kavli Foundation have poured in
> hundreds of millions of dollars more, establishing institutes at
> universities around the world, including Columbia and Yale.
>
>>
> "In this field we are merely at the foothills of an enormous mountain
> range," said Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia, "and unlike
> in other areas of science, it is still possible for an individual or small
> group to make important contributions, without any great expenditure or
> some enormous lab."
>
> Dr. Sacktor is one of hundreds of researchers trying to answer a question
> that has dumbfounded thinkers since the beginning of modern inquiry: How
> on earth can a clump of tissue possibly capture and store everything -
> poems, emotional reactions, locations of favorite bars, distant childhood
> scenes? The idea that experience leaves some trace in the brain goes back
> at least to Plato's Theaetetus metaphor of a stamp on wax, and in 1904 the
> German scholar Richard Semon gave that ghostly trace a name: the engram.
>
> What could that engram actually be?
>
>
> A Conscience Blocker?
>
> "This possibility of memory editing has enormous possibilities and raises
> huge ethical issues," said Dr. Steven E. Hyman, a neurobiologist at
> Harvard. "On the one hand, you can imagine a scenario in which a person
> enters a setting which elicits traumatic memories, but now has a drug that
> weakens those memories as they come up. Or, in the case of addiction, a
> drug that weakens the associations that stir craving."
>
>> "This is really the biggest target, and we have some ideas of how you
> might try to do it, for instance to get cells to make more PKMzeta," Dr.
> Sacktor said. "But these are only ideas at this stage."
>
> A substance that improved memory would immediately raise larger social
> concerns, as well. "We know that people already use smart drugs and
> performance enhancers of all kinds, so a substance that actually improved
> memory could lead to an arms race," Dr. Hyman said.
>
> Many questions in the science remain. For instance, can PKMzeta really
> link a network of neurons for a lifetime? If so, how? Most molecules live
> for no more than weeks at a time.




This is all fiction by NY Times. All those brain scientists are lunatic,
schizophrenic paranoid and delusional.
They need to wear tinfoil hats.





Johnty
2009-04-07 08:04:17 EST
On 7 Apr, 11:12, "StraightDrive" <StraightDr...@Tendulkar.com> wrote:


>
> This is all fiction by NY Times.



How do you know?

Freedom Fighter
2009-04-07 14:38:31 EST
"StraightDrive" <StraightDrive@Tendulkar.com> wrote in message
news:grf8t7$fch$1@aioe.org...

< snip >

> This is all fiction by NY Times. All those brain scientists are lunatic,
> schizophrenic paranoid and delusional.
> They need to wear tinfoil hats.

Fiction by the NY Times?
You protest so vehemently here that it seems that YOU may well be in the
"tinfoil hat" brigade.



StraightDrive
2009-04-08 00:08:29 EST

"johnty" <johnty1@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:e88f17d3-04ff-44a6-8b1f-697050c29746@l38g2000vba.googlegroups.com...
> On 7 Apr, 11:12, "StraightDrive" <StraightDr...@Tendulkar.com> wrote:
>
>
>>
>> This is all fiction by NY Times.
>
>
>
> How do you know?


Ask the 310 million dumb pussericans who spend their whole life watching
dumb reality shows and reading gossip magazines.



StraightDrive
2009-04-08 00:09:10 EST

"Freedom Fighter" <liberty@once.net> wrote in message
news:H4NCl.534416$Mh5.204652@bgtnsc04-news.ops.worldnet.att.net...
> "StraightDrive" <StraightDrive@Tendulkar.com> wrote in message
> news:grf8t7$fch$1@aioe.org...
>
> < snip >
>
>> This is all fiction by NY Times. All those brain scientists are lunatic,
>> schizophrenic paranoid and delusional.
>> They need to wear tinfoil hats.
>
> Fiction by the NY Times?
> You protest so vehemently here that it seems that YOU may well be in the
> "tinfoil hat" brigade.
>


My comments were meant to be sarcastic.




Mike Gooding
2009-04-14 11:52:02 EST
On Apr 7, 4:46 am, "NewsToBeRead" <NewsToBeR...@USA.Com> wrote:
> http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/health/research/06brain.html?hp=&pa...

So I could forget the result of the last Ashes ? Bring it on !

Mike Gooding
--------------------
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