Memories related to fear are never deleted from the brain: Researchers discover where our worst fears are stored

Fareeha Arshad
Photo byPhoto by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash

Several people globally experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a condition that causes people to recall the worst events of their lives, even if they were supposed to be in a distant past. Though it has long been known that the hippocampus region of the brain plays a crucial role in storing our memories, several studies have been conducted to understand how our fears remain stored in the brain for a long time and continue to dominate significant areas of our lives.

In a recent study published in the ‘Nature Neuroscience’ journal, researchers from the University of California studied the major pathways involved in identifying and regulating our fears. They discovered that, despite the timeline of any traumatic event, they continue to influence our brains and lives. With a further understanding of how people relive those traumas repeatedly, researchers aim to develop better treatment strategies and therapies for people experiencing (PTSD).

In the study, the team used engineered mice such that their neurons could be easily identified during any fear response. They also used certain viruses that could cut down major pathways in the mice nervous systems – especially those related to memory and storage. They introduced an electric shock as the source of fear among the mice. A month later, when the same mice were reintroduced to the location where they were shocked and froze – suggesting that the distant fear-related memories remained active in their brains. They could recall when in a similar environment.

The study concluded that a region in the brain called the prefrontal cortex is responsible for our ability to make sound decisions and influences our cognitive behaviour. Upon further work, researchers confirmed that when this brain region was severed, the mice did not recall their fears and were no longer traumatized. With further research in this area, scientists aim to help treat PTSD and similar conditions so that people no longer have to live with their fears for the rest of their lives.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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