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Happy memories ‘perk up’ stressed mice

mouse

Neuroscientists have discovered that artificially stimulating a positive memory can cause mice to snap out of depression-like behaviour.

Brain cells storing a good memory were labelled and then later re-activated, after the mice were stressed.

“Turning on” the memory for just a few minutes eliminated signs of depression.

The research, published in Nature, cannot be directly applied in humans but the researchers say it demonstrates the power of rekindling happy memories.

People with depression typically struggle to summon positive memories from before their illness, said senior author Susumu Tonegawa, from the Riken-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics in Massachusetts, US.

Treatments such as psychotherapy and medication help in some cases, but not others. Prof Tonegawa hopes that one day, improved technology will allow us to stimulate positive brain activity more directly.

“There is hope that knowledge obtained from this type of animal model study could be taken advantage of, in the future, when it is combined with less invasive technology,” he told the BBC.

Prof Tonegawa’s team is known for its work manipulating mouse memories using the technique known as “optogenetics”.

This involves using genetic engineering to install a “switch” in particular brain cells. Once in place, these switches can be activated by shining light inside the brain.

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