Thursday, April 27, 2006

The protein-based shakes

I haven't been able to just hop on the highway for over a decade. Even a trip to the airport to pick-up my daughter gives me pause; no pleasure in her visits until after we get off of I-70 and onto city streets. I was interested to discover recently that my fear of driving may be just a matter of unwanted proteins deep in my brain.

Lab rats can be trained to get all hunchy and tense at the sound of a bell if every time the bell rings their cage-floor zaps their ratty little paws. A few shocks later, they need only hear the sound of that bell to hunker down in unhappy anticipation.

Scientists discovered that dosing up the rodents with an antibiotic that blocks the production of protein at the time of training blocks the long-term retention of this bell/shock memory. Those treated rats who are unable to form new proteins no longer react to the ringing bell in a negative way.

Ethically dicey, however, to dose up phobic humans with such nasty chemicals. Fortunately, researchers have discovered that medications such as propranolol that block part of the outflow from the sympathetic nervous system can prevent the activation of the amygdala deep in the human brain that is responsible for permanent installation of fear-based memories. It is possible that using this inexpensive drug at the time of the trauma, or afterwards during therapeutic sessions when the memories are re-activated, may prevent the development of traumatic phobias or PTSD.

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