Article posted Monday, November 24, 2014 2:35pm

The hippocampus is the area of the brain that plays a predominant role in establishing memories. In 2011 neuroscientists at MIT discovered a gene, named Npas4, that is required to establish new memories. This single key gene activates a set of genes that enhance the strength of communication between certain hippocampus neurons so experiences can be remembered. To prove this, the scientists bred mice that lacked the Npas4 gene, and found they were unable to form memories. They ran back and forth with abandon through an electrified chamber because they could not remember that they got shocked when they did so. It is possible that manipulating the Npas4 gene might someday be used to help victims of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) forget the experiences that haunt them. Progress has already been made in this area. A drug is being evaluated that, when used along with psychotherapy, helps PTSD sufferers permanently replace old traumatic memories with new less stressful ones. (Ramamoorthi, K. et al, 2011, Science, Dec. 22; Graff et al, 2014, Cell, Jan.16)