Memory erasure might seem like pure Sci-Fi, but it's actually on the cutting edge of science : Imagine a clandestine organization whose members can complete any assignment, whether it requires a deadly assassin or an adept hostage negotiator. Imagine that afterwards, the members of the organization will have no memory of what they've done, who they've done it with, or even who they were before joined the secret club. Welcome to the Dollhouse, where human embodiments of tabula rasa--are implanted with memories and personalities that allow them to become anything a client desires. After the assignment is complete, technicians use high-tech equipment to erase all memory of the event.

Joss Whedon, says that he did, in fact, consider science as he was writing the show, though he readily admits "not as much, probably, as I should have." Memory erasure is far from science fiction; in fact, it's the subject of ongoing research. "Experiments are being done to erase memory as part of the general effort to understand the molecular basis of memory," confirms Brandeis University professor Dr. John Lisman. Understanding how memories are stored will help scientists understand memory disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

Lisman and his colleagues have experimented with memory erasure at the cellular level with a molecule called CaMKII. "It is thought that neurons store memories at synapses by a process called long-term potentiation (LTP)," he explains. "We can induce LTP in the brain slice. The experiment we have done is see if we can erase LTP by attacking CaMKII." The team was able to erase LTP with an inhibitor of CaMKII. Dr. Todd Sacktor at State University of New York-Brooklyn has gone one step further. He has hypothesized that some synapses in the brain contain a special enzyme called protein kinase M zeta (PKM zeta), which allows them to store long-term memories. It works, essentially, like a computer's hard disk.In his experiments, Sacktor taught rats how to run a maze, then used drugs to inhibit the enzyme in their brains--thereby erasing their memories of the maze.

Humans have this same enzyme, Sacktor says, so theoretically, the memory-erasure part of Dollhouse is possible, though, unlike the show, no fancy-looking equipment is needed to do it. But using the drugs doesn't selectively erase memories; it will erase all memories from the area of the brain where it is injected.

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