In the 2004 neosurrealist movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a person could have his memories of someone he has broken up with erased from his mind. Now research from University of Montreal published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, has moved closer to this possibility with the drug Metyrapone.
Memory recall uses the stress hormone cortisol. When a negative event is remembered while the levels of cortisol are low, it is possible to ''impair the memory for this negative event with a long-lasting effect,'' according to Dr. Sonia Lupien, who directed the research.
The drug Metyrapone cuts cortisol levels, according to lead author Marie-France Marin, and changing cortisol levels close to the time of forming new memories can decrease the negative emotions that may be associated with them.
The study had 33 participants. They had to learn a story that had both negative and neutral events. After three days, the experimental groups were given the drug and asked to remember the story. After four days, they were again asked to retell the story. The researchers found that those who were given higher doses of the drug remembers the neutral events in the story but forgot the negative events.
While the movie was about wiping away memories of romantic love gone wrong, the researchers have more noble ideas for their findings. Marin explained ''Our findings may help people deal with traumatic events by offering them the opportunity to 'write-over' the emotional part of their memories during therapy.''
But don't rush to the store to buy Metyrapone, it is no longer commercially produced. Marin said ''Other drugs also decrease cortisol levels, and further studies with these compounds will enable us to gain a better understanding of the brain mechanisms involved in the modulation of negative memories.''