We’re all carrying around some cringe-inducing memories that we’d rather forget. But for those suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), recalling certain memories can provoke fearful, emotional experiences. By the same token, some memories can remind those battling drug addiction of the rewarding effects of the drug and trigger a relapse. Researchers at Canada’s Western University have found a way to effectively block these types of memories that could lead to better treatments for both conditions.

Using a rat model, neuroscientists at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry found that they could completely prevent the recall of both aversive and reward-related memories by stimulating a sub-type of dopamine receptor called the “D1” receptor in the prefrontal cortex.

Importantly, unlike the process used in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that permanently erased certain memories, the Western University team’s approach only controls the spontaneous recall of the aversive and reward-related memories, leaving the actual memory intact.

“The precise mechanisms in the brain that control how these memories are recalled are poorly understood, and there are presently no effective treatments for patients suffering from obtrusive memories associated with either PTSD or addiction,” says Nicole Lauzon, a PhD candidate in the laboratory of Steven Laviolette. “If we are able to block the recall of those memories, then potentially we have a target for drugs to treat these disorders.”

Lauzon and Laviolette describe their findings, which appear in the journal Neuropharmacology, in the video below.