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Beta Blockers To Treat PTSD, Would You Do It?

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  • Beta Blockers To Treat PTSD, Would You Do It?

    When Memories Are Scars
    Harrowing experiences damage the brain. New drugs promise to heal it. Could the end of posttraumatic stress be near?

    By Matt Bean, Men's Health

    Erasing Memories from the Hard Drive

    Propranolol is part of a class of drugs called beta-blockers already being used to treat real-time anxiety disorders, such as performance anxiety in public speakers. Dr. Pitman's study hinges on administering the drug within 6 hours of a traumatic event. And other researchers have been stretching the window even further—uncovering new revelations about how memories are made and stored in the brain. "The old story was that once memories are stored, they're stored forever," says Karim Nader, Ph.D., a researcher at McGill University, in Montreal. Nader specializes in the relatively new field of memory "reconsolidation," the subsequent revision of a memory after it's already been transferred into long-term storage. "But what I found is that once you access a memory, you have to restore it. It's kind of like taking a file off the hard drive and putting it into RAM—you have to save it to the hard drive all over again, or parts of it can get lost."

    Nader and his researchers have found an ingenious way to induce just such a memory loss—even in patients more than 3 decades removed from a traumatic event. First, he administers propranolol, effectively hitting the emotional mute button. Then he uses the same sort of prerecorded narration that Dr. Pitman (a co-researcher on the project) does to bring the memory into RAM. Finally, he moves on to other memories, and the patient's brain naturally "reconsolidates" the traumatic one with much less drama. Nader is now expanding the study in an attempt to corroborate his results with a larger group of subjects.

    The rest of the story...