Researchers from the University of California, Irvine were recently the first to identify an “imbalance in the key neural pathway that explains how some people reactivate negative emotional memories.” This finding is quite substantial, as it means that it could help to find new and better ways to treat various types of psychiatric disorders. This includes post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD.
The researchers recently published their study, titled “Multiplexing of Theta and Alpha Rhythms in the Amygdala-Hippocampal Circuit Supports Pattern Separation of Emotional Information,” in the journal Neuron.
The emotional memories that people have are interesting in the information that tends to be included in them. The emotional event itself tends to be very memorable, but the details of the event are often not quite as clear. Because there are not as many details in the memory, it has the potential to create a “faulty reactivation of negative memories.”
Those who have a bad experience may find that subsequent, similar experiences could make them nervous and anxious. Someone who almost drowns when they are young, for example, might become severely afraid of bodies of water in the future. Even small bodies of water where there is virtually no danger of drowning. Researchers believe that by gaining a better understanding of the emotional memory, it could help to improve the treatment that is available for PTSD and other disorders.
The researchers know that emotion is very powerful and it can influence the way a person remembers certain types of experiences. The influence of emotion on memory can be positive, but that is certainly not always the case, as studies have shown. Sometimes, the arousal of emotions can make a person unable to differentiate between similar experiences.
The co-senior author of the study, Michael Yassa, “professor of neurobiology and behavior UCI School of Biological Sciences; professor of neurology and psychiatry, UCI School of Medicine; and director of UCI's Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory,” said that neural computation is very important when it comes to episodic memory. Also, it's possible that it will be vulnerable to neuropsychiatric disorders.
The study from UCI found that when there is an imbalanced communication happening between the amygdala, which is the brain’s emotional center, and the hippocampus, it could cause there to be problems when it comes to differentiating negative experiences if there are any features of the past and current experiences that overlap. They also found that different types of brain rhythms, a faster alpha oscillation and a slower theta rhythm help to “diametrically regulate communications between the amygdala and the hippocampus.” When the alpha rhythms are overamplified, it can cause those faulty extrapolations to occur. However, the balanced theta rhythms between these brain regions can help to provide more accurate recall of the memories. They can also help to ensure that there is not the same overlap that can cause issues in the person’s memory and the way they are dealing with a current situation.
By providing a better balance between the two regions of the brain, researchers believe that it might lead to a much better outcome for patients who have PTSD or similar types of disorders. Through various types of treatments, such as “deep brain stimulation, transcranial alternating current stimulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation,” researchers hope that they are able to provide some help for those who are suffering.
Of course, as with any type of medical research, there is still a substantial amount to learn about this field. This is a promising avenue, though.