The human genome project has yielded many discoveries about complex human characteristics, but using this information to identify new drugs has largely eluded scientists. Now, researchers have described compounds related to human memory, one of which produced a drug-induced reduction in negative memories.

The researchers, from the University of Basel in Switzerland, believe their findings could aid in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They describe their results in a study published in the journal PNAS.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD affects around 7.7 million American adults, but children can also suffer from the condition.

The organization says that PTSD symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

  1. Re-experiencing symptoms: flashbacks, bad dreams, scary thoughts
  2. Avoidance symptoms: avoiding reminders of the experience, feeling numb emotionally, experiencing guilt or depression, losing interest, trouble remembering the event, and
  3. Hyperarousal symptoms: easily frightened, feeling anxious, difficulty sleeping.

The researchers, including Prof. Andreas Papassotiropoulos from the Department of Psychology at the University of Basel, conducted a multinational collaborative study to assess the genetic underpinnings of emotionally aversive memory, which is linked to PTSD.

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Researchers found that a known antihistamine interacted with a gene product, resulting in decreased recollection of negative memories.

The team was able to identify 20 potential drug target genes in two gene sets:

  • The neuroactive ligand-receptor interaction, and
  • The long-term depression gene set.

In their study, which was double-blind and placebo-controlled, they observed a compound that interacts with one of the gene products.

Interestingly, the compound involved in the interaction was a popular antihistamine, and just a single dose of it resulted in a major reduction of recalling negative memories – in this case, aversive pictures the participants had previously seen.

Additionally, the antihistamine did not affect the memories of neutral or positive pictures.

The authors note that for the first time, these results “demonstrate that genome information, along with appropriate data mining methodology, can be used as a starting point for the identification of memory-modulating compounds,” and the findings could also have implications for treating PTSD.

Prof. Papassotiropoulos adds:

The rapid development of innovative methods for genetic analysis has made this new and promising approach possible.”

The researchers say they are planning further studies, during which they will attempt to identify and create memory-enhancing drugs.

Medical News Today recently reported that scientists successfully disrupted unwanted memories in mice while leaving the rest untouched.