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Xenon Gas can Erase Bad Memories

Aug 30, 2014 06:31 AM EDT
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Xenon gas can help reduce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a new study from Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital has found.

According to the researchers, xenon gas is used in anesthesia and diagnostic imaging might be used to treat memory related problems and even PTSD. Their study was conducted on rat models.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that affects a person who has recently witnessed a traumatic event such as a death or a violent crime. About 3.5 percent of the U.S. adult population has been diagnosed with this condition. The research has shown that PTSD sufferers also have symptoms of depression.

We found that xenon gas has the capability of reducing memories of traumatic events" in an animal model, said Edward Meloni, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and assistant psychologist at McLean Hospital. "It's an exciting breakthrough, as this has the potential to be a new treatment for individuals suffering from PTSD."

In the current study, the researchers wanted to know whether or not xenon can interfere with a process called reconsolidation.

Memories aren't fixed, but are constantly evolving based on new information. Several scientists believe that the brain constantly alters memories during a recall.

"We know from previous research that each time an emotional memory is recalled, the brain actually restores it as if it were a new memory. With this knowledge, we decided to see whether we could alter the process by introducing xenon gas immediately after a fear memory was reactivated," explained Meloni in a news release.

The team used animal models to test the idea. Rats were trained to fear environmental cues that were paired with mild electrical shocks. The researchers could induce fear by exposing the animals to the same cues again.

The researchers then exposed these rats to low doses of the xenon gas. They found that the gas was effective in treating fear in these animals. The team says that xenon is an ideal candidate for memory altering treatment as it gets in and out of the brain faster than other drugs.

Scientists say that the gas works by inhibiting NMDA receptors involved in memory formation. The effect of the gas on the rats was so dramatic that up to two weeks from the treatment, the animals didn't fear the environment cue.

In the current study, the researchers found that the gas interferes with the consolidation of new memories. The team says that for PTSD drug to be really effective, it needs to block the recurring flashbacks of old memories. They say that further research is required to establish the safety and efficacy of xenon gas-based treatment.

The study is published in the journal PLOS One. 

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