Scientists in the Netherlands have discovered a way to weaken or erase fear-provoking memories with a β-adrenergic receptor antagonist, or β-blocker, a finding that might help in the development of treatments for some anxiety disorders and phobias (Kindt M et al. Nat Neurosci. 10.1038/nn.2271 [published online ahead of print February 15, 2009]).
Previous animal studies revealed that fear memories can be altered when recalled, a process called reconsolidation. In the current study, volunteers learned a fear response to images of spiders after receiving a mild shock as they looked at spider pictures; the next day, they were given the β-blocker propranolol or placebo before viewing pictures of spiders. One day later, those given propranolol had a greatly diminished fear response to these images compared with those who took placebo, suggesting that the drug had disrupted reconsolidation of the memory's fearful emotional component.
Stephenson J. Erasing Scary Memories. JAMA. 2009;301(11):1118. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.354