Bad memories could soon be forgotten

Will Smith performs a memory wipe in comedy film Men in Black
Will Smith performs a memory wipe in comedy film Men in Black

Memory wipes - they're a staple of science fiction, but are closer to becoming fact.

Researchers in Europe have figured out a way to effectively erase bad memories in mice using a "genetic switch".

They trained mice with a genetically modified gene, neuroplastin, which has been linked in humans to schizophrenia and decreased intellectual ability.

The mice were taught to flee from one side of a box to the other when a lamp turned on to avoid an electric shock.

After scientists "switched off" the neuroplastin gene, the mice forgot to run away.

"We were amazed to find that deactivating one single gene is enough to erase associative memories formed before or during the learning trials," says Professor Detlef Balschun from the KU Leuven Laboratory for Biological Psychology.

"Switching off the neuroplastin gene has an impact on the behaviour of the mice, because it interferes with the communication between their brain cells."

It's still early days, but the researchers hope it'll open up new ways to improve people's memories, as well as destroy them - particularly those affected by dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It's still not clear whether memory problems are the result of memories being lost, or just access to them being hindered.

The study was published in journal Biology Psychiatry.