Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Fear Today

Negative, fearful memories and positive memories are in distinct cell networks in the hippocampus

05 November 2022

Fear Today

Memories are malleable – subject to change every time we recall, acting more like reconstructions of past scenes than videos on repeat. These subtle edits are influenced by our current state of mind, where we are, who we are with – the many filters that life provides. Researchers believe vivid emotional memories are stored in this mouse’s hippocampus (highlighted in turquoise), coded into connections between networks of cells called engrams – 'negative' fearful memories between red cells and 'positive' ones between blue. They find it’s possible to interrupt and reframe negative memories by triggering positive engrams at precisely the right time. For humans suffering from PTSD, it may be possible to soothe fearful 'flashbacks' by helping patients to recall equally strong positive memories. Finding solutions within the brain is at the foundation of many psychology approaches, and deeper understanding may help in approaches to manage our fears.

Written by John Ankers

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