British scientists may soon be able to develop a pill to ease or wipe away the stress of painful memories, according to a study published Tuesday.
By examining the nerve cells in the brain that are responsible for learning and remembering -- known as "mushroom spines" -- researchers from the University of Leicester , in central England, discovered that it was possible to alter what is remembered.
They identified a particular protein called lipocalin-2 that the brain produces in response to stress. In tests on mice, those genetically engineered without this protein were found to be less "outgoing" and preferred to "hide in the dark."
Robert Pawlak, from the university, said the production of the protein by the brain may help people cope with various adverse life events by reducing the number of "mushroom spines."
"We have identified a protein that the brain produces in response to stress in order to reduce the number of mushroom spines and therefore reduce future anxiety associated with stressful events," he said. "This protein, lipocalin-2, is normally not produced, but its fabrication dramatically increases in response to stress in the hippocampus."
The scientists now plan to see whether a drug that boosts lipocalin-2 in the brain may help ease painful memories and treat stress-related psychological conditions such as anxiety disorders and depression.
"Identification of lipocalin-2 as a new player the brain uses to help us cope with stress is an important step forward," Pawlak added. "We are getting closer to deciphering molecular mechanisms of stress that, if not functioning properly, may lead to stress-related psychiatric diseases."
The finds were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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