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Memory Reconsolidation Processes and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Promises and Challenges of Translational Research

  • Jacek De̢biec
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Jacek De̢biec, M.D., Ph.D., M.Phil., Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University Child Study Center, 577 First Ave, New York, New York 10016
    Affiliations
    Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University Child Study Center, Bellevue Hospital Center, New York, New York
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      During the past decade, there was a vigorous renewal of interest in postretrieval memory processes. Numerous studies using a variety of species and learning paradigms, and targeting various brain circuitries and molecular mechanisms provided compelling evidence that established memories may be experimentally altered following their recall. Thirty years of prior research suggested the possibility of attenuating previously acquired memories following their retrieval (
      • Sara S.J.
      Retrieval and reconsolidation: toward a neurobiology of remembering.
      ). This observed postretrieval plasticity was referred to as memory reconsolidation, in contrast to memory consolidation, which occurs following learning and which subserves the establishment of lasting memories. Until the publication by Nader et al. in 2000 (
      • Nader K.
      • Schafe G.E.
      • Le Doux J.E.
      Fear memories require protein synthesis in the amygdala for reconsolidation after retrieval.
      ), amnestic agents or procedures used in reconsolidation studies were nonspecific or were applied systemically, which significantly limited conclusions that could be drawn from these studies. However, Nader et al. demonstrated the disruption of retrieved memories in a well-defined learning paradigm (auditory fear conditioning) using a well-known memory consolidation blocker (protein synthesis inhibitory anisomycin) infused into the lateral nucleus of the amygdala, a region known to be critical for acquisition and consolidation of auditory fear conditioning. Importantly, Nader et al. (
      • Nader K.
      • Schafe G.E.
      • Le Doux J.E.
      Fear memories require protein synthesis in the amygdala for reconsolidation after retrieval.
      ) showed that targeted administration of a consolidation blocker impaired the memory within few hours following learning but not later (
      • Schafe G.E.
      • Nader K.
      • Blair H.T.
      • LeDoux J.E.
      Memory consolidation of Pavlovian fear conditioning: a cellular and molecular perspective.
      ). Subsequent studies showed that reconsolidation is not a simple repetition of consolidation (
      • Alberini C.M.
      The role of reconsolidation and the dynamic process of long-term memory formation and storage.
      ). Although features of the reconsolidation hypothesis remain to be proven, this line of research has successfully stimulated a great deal of research on postretrieval memory processes.
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      1. Hoge EA, Worthington JJ, Nagurney JT, Chang Y, Kay EB, Feterowski CM, et al. (in press): Effect of acute posttrauma propranolol on PTSD outcome and physiological responses during script-driven imagery. CNS Neurosci Ther.

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      Linked Article

      • Neural Signature of Reconsolidation Impairments by Propranolol in Humans
        Biological PsychiatryVol. 71Issue 4
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          The retrieval of consolidated memories may result in their destabilization, requiring a restabilization process called reconsolidation. During reconsolidation, memories become sensitive to psychological and pharmacological modifications again, thus providing an opportunity to alter unwanted memories. Although such reconsolidation manipulations might open the door to novel treatment approaches for psychiatric disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder, the brain mechanisms underlying reconsolidation processes in humans are completely unknown.
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