Researchers at Linköping University, Sweden, explored the neural mechanisms behind fear memories. The study is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The researchers analyzed the epigenetic enzyme called PRDM2 and its role in the way fear-related memories are processed. The experiment is carried out in rats.
The results revealed that reduced levels of the protein PRDM2 in the network between the frontal lobes and the amygdala enhance the consolidation of fearful memories and boost pathological fears.
People with alcohol dependence and anxiety-related conditions have decreased levels of PRDM2 and are more likely to develop stress- and anxiety- -related disorders (like post-traumatic stress disorder).
Therefore, interventions that increase levels of PRDM2 in the nerve cells that connect the frontal lobes and the amygdala can help erase fear memories.
One of the lead researchers, Estelle Barbier, elaborated: “Patients with anxiety disorders may benefit from treatments that weaken or erase fear memories. The biological mechanism that we have identified involves the down-regulation of PRDM2, and we currently do not have any way of increasing it. But the mechanism may be part of the explanation of why some individuals have a greater vulnerability to developing anxiety-related conditions. It may also explain why these conditions and alcohol dependence so often are present together.”
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Riccardo, B., Kanat, C., Michele, P., Li, X., Simon, S., Esi, D., Gaelle, A., Andrea, C., Wiskerke, J., Szczot, I., Ana, D., Louise, A., Eric, A., Claudio, C., Markus, H., & Estelle, B. (2022). An epigenetic mechanism for over-consolidation of fear memories. Molecular psychiatry, 10.1038/s41380-022-01758-6. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-022-01758-6