London: Imagine popping a pill to erase
painful memories after a break-up or a traumatic mishap. Your
imagination may soon turn into reality, thanks to scientists
who claim to have moved a step closer to developing such drug.
An international team, led by the University of
Puerto Rico, has discovered a drug that helps numb the pain
of bad memories by flooding the mind with feelings of security
In laboratory tests, the scientists harnessed effects
of a natural chemical which works on the brain to reduce fear
and anxiety. They gave laboratory rodents a protein known as
called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor to help them relearn
painful association from stressful situations.
Their study showed how BDNF can work in a similar
way to a psychological technique called extinction training in
which phobia sufferers are repeatedly exposed to the source of
their fears to help them overcome them.
Eventually the brain is "rewired" to overwrite painful
associations from stressful situations in the past, though it
doesn`t extinguish them fully, the British media reported.
In fact, the scientists created stress "triggers" in
rats by giving them small electric shocks which loud music was
played. They came to associate the music with the pain and
froze when they heard it. But the effect was reversed when
they were given doses of BDNF.
"The surprising finding here is that the drug
substituted for extinction training," Dr Gregory Quirk, who
led the investigation, said.
Added Dr Thomas Insel of the US National Institute of
Mental Health, which funded the study: "This work supports the
idea that medications could be developed to augment effects of
BDNF, providing opportunities for pharmaceutical treatment of
post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders."
The findings have been published in the latest edition
of the `Science` journal.