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New principle guides memory dynamics

Rehovot, Israel--August 21, 2003-- Is it possible to intentionally forget specific memories, without affecting other memories? Many would undoubtedly be happy to learn that unpleasant memories might be erased. This ability could be especially significant when it comes to the kind of traumatic memories that are debilitating to those experiencing them. It may well be that in the future, we will be able to wipe out, or at least dim, certain types of memories with controlled accuracy. A new fundamental rule governing the workings of the brain, recently discovered by a team of scientists in the Weizmann Institute of Science, headed by Prof. Yadin Dudai of the Neurobiology Department, constitutes a step towards reaching this goal.

Every memory that we acquire undergoes a "ripening" process (called consolidation) immediately after it is formed. In this process, it becomes impervious to outside stimulation or drugs that would obliterate it. Until recently, the accepted dogma was that for each separate item of memory, consolidation occurs just once, after which the time window that allows for "memory erasing" closes (usually about an hour or two after the memory is acquired).

However, evidence has lately come to light that a memory is open to disruption for a short period following each time this memory is recalled. If this is true, it means that it would be possible to recall a memory and, immediately after the act of remembering, to activate a "memory eraser" and wipe it out, even though years may have passed since the original memory was formed.

Research into the subject took place in leading labs around the world, but the results were indecisive, as in some cases it was found possible to erase old memories upon recall, while in others no evidence for this was found.

Prof. Dudai's group have now identified a new principle guiding the activity of the brain's memory systems, which sheds light on how memories are recalled and stabilized, an
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Contact: Alex Smith
Alex_smith@margeotes.com
212-460-0563
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
21-Aug-2003


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