Tackling maladaptive memories through reconsolidation: From neural to clinical science

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Behavioral neuroscience has greatly informed how we understand the formation, persistence, and plasticity of memory. Research has demonstrated that memory reactivation can induce a labile period, during which previously consolidated memories are sensitive to change, and in need of restabilization. This process is known as reconsolidation. Such findings have advanced not only our basic understanding of memory processes, but also hint at the prospect of harnessing these insights for the development of a new generation of treatments for disorders of emotional memory. However, even in simple experimental models, the conditions for inducing memory reconsolidation are complex: memory labilization appears to result from the interplay of learning history, reactivation, and also individual differences, posing difficulties for the translation of basic experimental research into effective clinical interventions. In this paper, we review a selection of influential animal and human research on memory reconsolidation to illustrate key insights these studies afford. We then consider how these findings can inform the development of new treatment approaches, with a particular focus on the transition of memory from reactivation, to reconsolidation, to new memory formation, as well as highlighting possible limitations of experimental models. If the challenges of translational research can be overcome, and if reconsolidation-based procedures become a viable treatment option, then they would be one of the first mental health treatments to be directly derived from basic neuroscience research. This would surely be a triumph for the scientific study of mind and brain.

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