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expert reaction to altering emotional memories

A study on 39 depressed patients found their emotional memories were disrupted using electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), according to a study published in Nature Neuroscience.


Dr Aidan Horner, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Space and Memory Lab, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said:

“The ability to disrupt specific episodic memories using ECT is of interest both theoretically and therapeutically. The results present some of the strongest evidence for the process of ‘re-consolidation’ in humans, which until now has been predominantly explored in non-human animals. This process has implications for our understanding of episodic memory – suggesting that memories are not static but are constantly being retrieved and updated throughout the life-span.

“The ability to disrupt or even abolish specific memories, whilst leaving others intact, could have important therapeutic applications. For example, selectively disrupting memories in patients with psychological conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. However, treatment using ECT is currently restricted to specific conditions (depressive illness, schizophrenia, and catatonia and mania). As such, any possible applications are at present limited to specific patient groups.

“Whilst requiring independent replication, the results nicely mirror recent work using transcranial magnetic stimulation, where specific episodic memories were strengthened rather than disrupted (Sandrini et al., Current Biology, 2013). As such, it appears we now have the tentative means to both strengthen and weaken specific episodic memories by electromagnetically stimulating the brain from outside of the skull.”


‘An electroconvulsive therapy procedure impairs reconsolidation of episodic memories in humans’ by Kroes et al. published in Nature Neuroscience  on Sunday 22nd December.

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