Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Neuroscientists show how brain stores memories of specific fears

Date:
April 3, 2010
Source:
New York University
Summary:
The brain is capable of holding and retrieving memories for specific fears, revealing a more sophisticated storage and recall capacity than previously thought, neuroscientists have found.

The brain is capable of holding and retrieving memories for specific fears, revealing a more sophisticated storage and recall capacity than previously thought, neuroscientists have found. The study, which appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience, may have implications for treating post-traumatic stress syndrome -- as scientists begin to understand how different fears are stored in the brain, they can move toward addressing specific fear memories.

The research was conducted by researchers at New York University's Center for Neural Science, the Department of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine-Bellevue Hospital Center, the Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Krakow, Poland, Universitι Paris-Sud, and the Emotional Brain Institute at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research.

The research focused on the brain's amygdala, which has previously been shown to store fear memories. However, prior studies have indicated that the amygdala does not discriminate among the different threats it holds and processes. In other words, whether you are afraid of dogs because you were once bitten by a dog or you are afraid of pizza because you once nearly choked to death eating it, all the amygdala remembers is that both of these experiences were scary. By contrast, other brain areas, such as cortex, ensures that all other aspects of these fearful events in your life are remembered.

The scientists on the Nature Neuroscience study sought to determine if there were differences in how the amygdala processes and remembers fears. To do so, they focused on a process called memory consolidation in which an experience is captured, or encoded, then stored. Once consolidation occurs, memories may be long lasting -- one experience may create memories that last a lifetime. However, whenever recalled, memories become labile -- that is, susceptible to changes. This process is called reconsolidation. In life, reconsolidation allows updating existing memories. But this process also serves as a valuable methodological tool as it lets researchers control the modification of memories.

When it comes to developing fear memories, one model posits that during a fear experience, a neutral stimulus (e.g., a musical passage) becomes associated with a negative encounter (e.g., a dog bite). Therefore, future occurrences of this neutral stimulus, or conditioned stimulus (CS), forewarns the onset of the negative encounter, or unconditioned stimulus (US). Previous research shows that the association between a CS and a US is processed and stored in the amygdala.

To replicate this process, the researchers devised an experiment using laboratory rats. In it, they paired two distinct audio tones, which served as the neutral stimulus, or conditioned stimulus (CS), with mild electric shocks to different parts of the rats' bodies. As a result, the rats linked a mild shock to a certain part of their bodies with a certain tone.

Under the memory reconsolidation model, exposing an organism to any aspect of the learned experience brings this memory back to mind and makes it susceptible to changes. Thus, if two distinct tones were each paired with two distinct electric shocks and if the amygdala does not discriminate among different threats, then re-exposing a rat to any of these shocks should cause lability of all fear memories stored in the amygdala.

However, the Nature Neuroscience study yielded quite different results. The researchers found that re-exposing a rat to a particular shock (that is, one applied to a certain part of the body), followed by an injection of an antibiotic known to disrupt reconsolidation processes, impaired only these associations that were linked to this particular shock. Despite the disruption of one type of fear memory, rats were still able to express fear behavior to the tone which had been paired with a shock applied to another part of the body.

The finding demonstrates that the amygdala makes distinctions among the fear memories it holds and retrieves.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by New York University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D%u0119biec et al. The amygdala encodes specific sensory features of an aversive reinforcer. Nature Neuroscience, 2010; DOI: 10.1038/nn.2520

Cite This Page:

New York University. "Neuroscientists show how brain stores memories of specific fears." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100402110137.htm>.
New York University. (2010, April 3). Neuroscientists show how brain stores memories of specific fears. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100402110137.htm
New York University. "Neuroscientists show how brain stores memories of specific fears." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100402110137.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) — Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) — A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Couples Who Sleep Less Than An Inch Apart Might Be Happiest

Couples Who Sleep Less Than An Inch Apart Might Be Happiest

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) — A new study by British researchers suggests couples' sleeping positions might reflect their happiness. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins