£508k award from the the BBSRC to study the neural mechanisms of memory updating

Jonathan Lee and Attila Sik (School of Clinical and Experimental Medicine) have been awarded a 3 year grant from the Biolotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council: "The neural mechanisms of memory updating". Memories can be updated with new information, but little is known about the underlying mechanisms behind this process. New research has revealed a simple, yet powerful, approach for demonstrating memory updating. First, humans or experimental animals are taught that a stimulus predicts a fearful outcome. This fear memory is then updated by first reminding the subject to reactivate the memory, and then updating the memory by teaching the subject that the stimulus is now safe. This approach exploits the process of memory reconsolidation, which restabilises the reactivated memory, by introducing new information that is thought to become integrated into the restabilising memory. We will be studying the mechanisms by which this integration process takes place.

Effectively updating a fearful memory may well be useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders. However, it is currently not clear how we can ensure that the memory reminders will successfully reactivate the memory and trigger the reconsolidation process. The current project will also be testing the possibility that we can pharmacologically enhance memory reactivation in order to update memories that would otherwise not be modifiable.