The Downside of Good Memory

Photo: Drawing

Original painting of a traumatised
child; © Verena Ertl

There are many advantages of having a good memory. Retaining what has been learned at school comes more easily, for example, or keys are less likely to be misplaced. But having a good memory could also have a downside, namely, when shocking experiences, such as a severe accident or a rape incident, are deeply engraved into the brain. When such traumatic experiences continue to exist as painful memories, they could increase the chance of a posttraumatic stress disorder developing.

Dominique de Quervain and Andreas Papassotiropoulos, from the transfaculty research platform "Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences" and the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, have recently discovered that car al and neutral information were likewise better remembered. Furthermore, the scientists have found that the gene variant is associated with heightened activity in memory relevant regions of the brain. More than 1000 healthy persons took part in this study in Basel.

In a second part of this study, the researchers investigated the effect of the gene variant on traumatic memories in around 350 survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. The scientists found that the carriers of the identified gene variant experienced more distressing memories of the shocking events during the civil war and were more likely to suffer a posttraumatic stress disorder.

This study was able to show, for the first time, a genetic link between good memory and a heightened risk for psychological trauma and suggests that PKC alpha plays an important role in the regulation of memory processes. The current study was undertaken as part of a project directed by de Quervain and Papassotiropoulos.

Among the goals of this project are the identification of neurobiological and molecular mechanisms of human memory and the development of new strategies for the treatment of memory disorders.

MEDICA.de; Quelle: University of Basel