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Inhibiting Human Aversive Memory by Transcranial Theta-Burst Stimulation to the Primary Sensory Cortex

  • Author Footnotes
    1 KEO and MS contributed equally to this work.
    Karita E. Ojala
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Karita E. Ojala, Ph.D.
    Footnotes
    1 KEO and MS contributed equally to this work.
    Affiliations
    Computational Psychiatry Research, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

    Neuroscience Centre Zurich, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
    Search for articles by this author
  • Author Footnotes
    1 KEO and MS contributed equally to this work.
    Matthias Staib
    Footnotes
    1 KEO and MS contributed equally to this work.
    Affiliations
    Computational Psychiatry Research, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

    Neuroscience Centre Zurich, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
    Search for articles by this author
  • Samuel Gerster
    Affiliations
    Computational Psychiatry Research, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
    Search for articles by this author
  • Christian C. Ruff
    Affiliations
    Neuroscience Centre Zurich, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

    Zurich Center for Neuroeconomics, Department of Economics, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
    Search for articles by this author
  • Dominik R. Bach
    Correspondence
    Dominik R. Bach, Ph.D.
    Affiliations
    Computational Psychiatry Research, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

    Neuroscience Centre Zurich, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

    Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging and Max-Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    Search for articles by this author
  • Author Footnotes
    1 KEO and MS contributed equally to this work.
Open AccessPublished:February 09, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.01.021

      Abstract

      Background

      Predicting adverse events from past experience is fundamental for many biological organisms. However, some individuals suffer from maladaptive memories that impair behavioral control and well-being, e.g., after psychological trauma. Inhibiting the formation and maintenance of such memories would have high clinical relevance. Previous preclinical research has focused on systemically administered pharmacological interventions, which cannot be targeted to specific neural circuits in humans. Here, we investigated the potential of noninvasive neural stimulation on the human sensory cortex in inhibiting aversive memory in a laboratory threat conditioning model.

      Methods

      We build on an emerging nonhuman literature suggesting that primary sensory cortices may be crucially required for threat memory formation and consolidation. Immediately before conditioning innocuous somatosensory stimuli (conditioned stimuli [CS]) to aversive electric stimulation, healthy human participants received continuous theta-burst transcranial magnetic stimulation (cTBS) to individually localized primary somatosensory cortex in either the CS-contralateral (experimental) or CS-ipsilateral (control) hemisphere. We measured fear-potentiated startle to infer threat memory retention on the next day, as well as skin conductance and pupil size during learning.

      Results

      After overnight consolidation, threat memory was attenuated in the experimental group compared with the control cTBS group. There was no evidence that this differed between simple and complex CS or that CS identification or initial learning were affected by cTBS.

      Conclusions

      Our results suggest that cTBS to the primary sensory cortex inhibits threat memory, likely by an impact on postlearning consolidation. We propose that noninvasive targeted stimulation of the sensory cortex may provide a new avenue for interfering with aversive memories in humans.

      Keywords

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      Linked Article

      • The High Road to Inhibiting Fear Memories
        Biological PsychiatryVol. 92Issue 2
        • Preview
          In an elegant study in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry, Ojala et al. (1) interrupt the consolidation of an acquired aversive memory via careful stimulation of sensory cortex—an approach that holds promise as a novel avenue of attenuating disruptive memories in clinical populations in the future.
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      • Erratum
        Biological Psychiatry
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          Erratum to: “Inhibiting Human Aversive Memory by Transcranial Theta-Burst Stimulation to the Primary Sensory Cortex”, by Ojala et al. (Biol Psychiatry 2022; 92:149-157); https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.01.021 .
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