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How brain gives special resonance to emotional memories

DURHAM, N.C. -- If the emotional memory of a traumatic car accident or the thrill of first love are remembered with a special resonance, it is because they engage different brain structures than do normal memories, Duke University researchers have discovered.

Their new study provides clear evidence from humans that the brain's emotional center, called the amygdala, interacts with memory-related brain regions during the formation of emotional memories, perhaps to give such memories their indelible emotional resonance.

The researchers said their basic insights could contribute to understanding of the role that the neural mechanisms underlying emotional memory formation play in post traumatic stress disorder and depression.

The study by Florin Dolcos, Kevin LaBar and Roberto Cabeza was reported in the June 10, 2004, issue of the journal Neuron. Dolcos is a research associate in the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center and LaBar and Cabeza are, respectively, assistant and associate professors of psychological and brain sciences. They are also faculty in the Center for Cognitive Neurosciences. Their research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

According to Dolcos, in their experiments the researchers were seeking evidence for the "modulation hypothesis," which holds that the brain's emotional and memory centers interact during the formation of emotional memories.

"The basic idea was simple: to find evidence supporting the notion that the brain's emotional region modulates activity in the memory regions to form an emotional memory," said Dolcos. "This idea was supported by animal research, but the evidence from neurologically intact humans was scarce and indirect. So, our goal was to find the right method that would allow us to demonstrate that this phenomenon happens in human, too, he said.

In their study, the researchers sought to establish that the memory-enhancing effect of emotion is due to interaction bet
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
9-Jun-2004


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