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New study reveals how fear gets ‘stuck’ in your brain

Updated Oct 19th, 2022 10:28AM EDT
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Scientists may finally understand how fearful memories work and why some people get “stuck” on them more than others. A new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry this past September examined the connection between fearful memories and anxiety.

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Researchers discovered a specific histone might enhance the expression of fear based on how it consolidates those memories. We already learned a bit more about how memories work, but one part that has always been relatively difficult to pin down is how fearful memories affect a person overall. Now, we may finally have some answers.

The histone in question is one known as PRDM2. According to the researchers, they were able to find a consistent correlation between the histone and how the amygdala consolidates fearful memories. The researchers believe this could help us better understand the mechanics of how fearful memories work and why some people react to them more than others.

Previously, researchers with Linköping University showed that rodents with alcohol dependence showed reduced levels of PRDM2. As a result, this down-regulation leads to an increased response when put in stressful positions. The researchers also found that the rodents with lower levels of the protein were more prone to seek out alcohol when stress levels rose.

anxiety, sad man dealing with fearful memories
Anxiety can come in many forms, but researchers believe that reduced levels of PRDM2 may affect it somehow. Image source: Tiko / Adobe

Because of the response, the researchers posit that reduced levels of PRDM2 can contribute to how fearful memories work, and how they affect the overall anxiety of the person experiencing them. To test it further, the researchers knocked the activity of the PRDM2 gene in rats even lower using a genetically engineered virus.

They found that the reduced protein levels didn’t change how the fearful memories worked when forming. Instead, they produced a longer-lasting fear response. This caused the fear to take longer to diminish compared to control animals within the study. When looking deeper, the researchers found that the PRDM2 knockdown helped modulate the expression of over 3,6000 genes in the amygdala.

As a result of the study, the researchers believe that the effects PRDM2 has on the amygdala are directly responsible for how fearful memories work, and how anxiety is tied to them. With these findings, we may finally be able to dig deeper into fear itself and other histones and proteins that can affect it so drastically.

Want to know more about memories and how to improve your own? This scientifically-backed tip can help improve your memory easily and quickly.

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Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.