London: A groundbreaking pill that could erase painful memories from our brain could soon be a reality, thanks to neuroscientists who have unfolded the secrets of how the brain handles stress.
The team from the University of Leicester has identified a particular protein that the brain produces in response to stress.
Mice genetically engineered to be unable to make this protein called lipocalin-2 reacted to stress more severely than other animals.
Tests tracked this back to changes in junctions that brain cells use to communicate with each other.
They found that mice lacking the protein had fewer of ‘mushroom-shaped’ junctions key to learning and consolidating memories.
“Mushroom spines help us remember things we once learned - but it is not always good,” a newspaper quoted Dr Robert Pawlak (CORR), lecturer in Neuroscience at the University of Leicester, as saying.
“We have identified a protein that the brain produces in response to stress in order to reduce the number of mushroom spines and therefore reduce future anxiety associated with stressful events,” he stated.
The researcher now plans to look at whether raising levels of the protein helps ease painful memories.
If so, a drug that boosts lipocalin-2 in the brain could be on the market within a decade.
The research could also lead to new treatments for depression.
The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).