Methamphetamine is one of the nastiest drug addictions to overcome, in part because memories of the high are so powerful. But what if scientists could erase those drug-infused recollections? Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida have developed a drug that’s able to do just that in mice.
The mechanism behind the memory-erasing drug draws on earlier research unraveling how memories form. Turns out, the process our brains use to build a memory during meth use is pretty abnormal (shocker, I know). The researchers figured out how to exploit this difference to create a drug that only targets psychostimulant-induced memories. Popular Science explains:
“Normal memories” of say your first day of school or a vacation you went on are sitting in your brain as a connection of neurons which are supported by the protein, actin. The actin quickly stabilizes and the memory is secured in your brain. But in the case of a memory created using amphetamine, the actin never actually stabilizes. The researchers took advantage of this instability and created a drug that would disrupt the actin and thus, the memory. However, because actin is involved in more than just memories (it makes muscles works and helps the heart to contract), disrupting actin would be extremely dangerous.
In this new study, however, the researchers utilized another molecule, nonmuscle myosin IIB, that helps actin work, but is further up in the biological cascade, so it doesn’t affect how actin is involved with muscle or heart function. The drug they created, called Blebbistatin, or Blebb, disrupts nonmuscle myosin IIB interrupting the unstable actin and “erasing” the memory associated with the psychoactive drug. The medicine works on only that memory and disrupts it for at least 30 days, the authors write. They also say this can be done with just a single dose.
Now, you’d be forgiven if you think that a memory-erasing drug sounds a wee bit dangerous. But in mice at least, the researchers were able to show that their drug only acts on memories associated with a psychostimulant’s addictive response. Still, Blebb has a long way to go before it hits the market (and hopefully, if and when it does, somebody will have come up with a more inspiring name). First, we need to thoroughly test Blebb’s interactions with other drugs, then move on to human trials. That process could take years.
Finally, even if this drug does make it out of the lab, there’s still the matter of convincing people to erase or suppress part of their memory, which sounds like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel. Then again, if you’ve been struggling with addiction for years, it’s possible you’d like nothing more than to make memories of past highs disappear.
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