Scientists Identify Neurotranmitters That Lead to Forgetting
Dopamine plays a role both in forming the initial memory but also in forgetting it.
While we often think of memory as a way of preserving the essential idea of who we are, little thought is given to the importance of forgetting to our wellbeing, whether what we forget belongs in the "horrible memories department" or just reflects the minutia of day-to-day living.
scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have pinpointed a mechanism that is essential for forming memories in the first place and, as it turns out, is equally essential for eliminating them after memories have formed.
The results showed that a small subset of dopamine neurons actively regulate the acquisition of memories and the forgetting of these memories after learning, using a pair of dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in a number of processes including punishment and reward, memory, learning and cognition.
But how can a single neurotransmitter, dopamine, have two seemingly opposite roles in both forming and eliminating memories? And how can these two dopamine receptors serve acquiring memory on the one hand, and forgetting on the other?
The study suggests that when a new memory is first formed, there also exists an active, dopamine-based forgetting mechanism -- ongoing dopamine neuron activity -- that begins to erase those memories unless some importance is attached to them, a process known as consolidation that may shield important memories from the dopamine-driven forgetting process.