Jul
23
2007

Why I can’t go to parties.

The stuff of nightmares: Just try and forget this, Cdk5 or no.    (image by Mute on Flickr.com)
The stuff of nightmares: Just try and forget this, Cdk5 or no. (image by Mute on Flickr.com)
If I were to mouth off to a champion kickboxer at a party, and then get kickboxed into stupefaction, a unique process would very likely be taking place in my brain. The horror that accompanies being repeatedly kicked in the face would become associated with the memory of the party as it formed in the hippocampus of my brain. It’s possible, then, that the next time I went to a party, even if it were kickboxer-free, I would be unable to separate the fear of that previous attack from the context of a party, and I’d just have to spend the evening in the car.

It can be extremely difficult to forget associated fears, to relearn that a certain situation is not threatening or harmful, so people who have been through very traumatic experiences can suffer severe psychological stress long after the event.

Researchers at MIT have recently discovered that an enzyme in the brain called Cdk5 seems to control the formation of memory-associated fears, and that the inhibition of Cdk5 can allow for these fears to be eliminated.

In order to study this association between Cdk5 and fear formation, a group of laboratory mice were brought to a party, and then each was beaten up by a kick boxer. Some of the mice-partiers then had their Cdk5 levels increased, and some had their Cdk5 activity inhibited. The former group had great difficulty forgetting the beating, and could not enjoy the next party they were brought to. The latter group, however, was able to quickly relearn that parties can be fun, just so long as all the kickboxers in attendance are being friendly.

Although brain chemistry is obviously not quite so simple as all that, scientists are hopeful that this research could eventually lead to the development of drugs to treat serious conditions, such as post traumatic stress disorder, or chronic panic attacks.

Sciencedaily’s article on the research.

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