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Researchers at Harvard and McGill University (in Montreal) are working on an amnesia drug that blocks or deletes bad memories. The technique seems to allow psychiatrists to disrupt the biochemical pathways that allow a memory to be recalled.
In a new study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the drug propranolol is used along with therapy to "dampen" memories of trauma victims.
Effect of post-retrieval propranolol on psychophysiologic responding during subsequent script-driven traumatic imagery in post-traumatic stress disorder
Alain Bruneta, Scott P. Orrb, c, Jacques Tremblaya, Kate Robertsona, Karim Naderd and Roger K. Pitmanc,,
aDepartment of Psychiatry, McGill University and Douglas Hospital Research Center, Montreal, QC, Canada
bVA Medical Center, Manchester, NH, USA
cDepartment of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
dDepartment of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Received 28 March 2007; accepted 1 May 2007. Available online 22 June 2007.
The β-adrenergic blocker propranolol given within hours of a psychologically traumatic event reduces physiologic responses during subsequent mental imagery of the event. Here we tested the effect of propranolol given after the retrieval of memories of past traumatic events. Subjects with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder described their traumatic event during a script preparation session and then received a one-day dose of propranolol (n = 9) or placebo (n = 10), randomized and double-blind. A week later, they engaged in script-driven mental imagery of their traumatic event while heart rate, skin conductance, and left corrugator electromyogram were measured. Physiologic responses were significantly smaller in the subjects who had received post-reactivation propranolol a week earlier. Propranolol given after reactivation of the memory of a past traumatic event reduces physiologic responding during subsequent mental imagery of the event in a similar manner to propranolol given shortly after the occurrence of a traumatic event.
Scottish scientist James W. Black successfully developed propranolol in the late 1950s. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this discovery in 1988.