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The World in Medicine
March 18, 2009

Erasing Scary Memories

JAMA. 2009;301(11):1118. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.354

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.

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