There are mixed thoughts about Monday’s report of fingolimod, drug trade name Gilenya, being able to dispose of bad memories. It is even being likened to the movie ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ where scientists had figured out how to do just that with the plot line being two characters having decided to erase memories of each other after a painful breakup.
Gilenya is the pill-formed immunomodulating drug therapy for the disease multiple sclerosis (MS) that was the first of its kind. It had initially raised a lot of excitement in the MS community until patients had found it wasn’t simply a replacement therapy for the injections, it was shown to cause a few complications, and the excitement wore off pretty quickly.
An electrocardiogram is always done before the first monitored dose is given as the drug can cause bradycardia, a slow heart rate, and decreased vision to the point where some have gone blind in one or both eyes. Vision had come back for most but there has been instances where it hasn't. This had made neurologists think twice before switching a patient from injection therapies that appear to be working fine for them.
Researchers at Common Wealth University School of Medicine in Virginia found the “thought-erasing action” of the drug isn’t related to its immune-suppressing mechanism but could be to its ability to inhibit an enzyme called histone deacetylase (HDAC).
Histone deacetylase is a key protein that binds with phosphates to the DNA backbone and helps regulate gene expression. It has long been a use as mood stabilizers and was used in many a study including one in 2007 to reverse memory loss.
The inhibiting process of the HDAC is what researchers were interested in because they were studying the mouse-models behavior after having [assuming several] doses of the medication; the mice had forgotten their previous painful experience.
The researchers had put the mice in a chamber where their feet were given a mild but noticeable electric shock and then released back to their cages. Once brought back to the chamber where they had previously received the shock, the researchers recorded the “freezing” behavior they exhibited as memory of the unpleasant experience had come back to them.
After having received fingolimod for an unpublished amount of time, the mice were returned to the chamber and the researchers found they had no previous memory of their experience[s]. It is unclear how many times the mice were in the chamber and given the shock and how many times and at what dosages they were given the medication as there has been no peer reviewed publications found at this point.
In an interview, Dr. Sarah Spiegel, the lead researcher of the study, mentioned they believed this find warrants further study for those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD has long been a terrible affliction for our military, and those who have had to endure other traumatic situations, and the news has been full of reports this past year of those who are believed to be suffering from it.
Along with the excitement of being able to finally have something concrete to study for help with PTSD are those on the other side who have raised ethical concerns and those appear the most. Many have noted online that our experiences are what have made us who we are, noting how we learn to avoid certain situations due to the ramifications of those choices.
What no one has pointed out is how the Atkinson-Shiffrin model for memory has been criticized for being overly simplified as sounds, smells, visuals, time and past ‘conditioning’ all greatly impact the formation of our memories. We also have to look at short-term and long-term memories and with so much interference from previous knowledge coming into play, it appears there is more to this story than most can see off hand.
Even if Dr. Spiegel and her colleagues do end up continuing, they intend to focus on fingolimod mechanism of action as far as improving cognition; the end time results they will be looking at will be a long time in coming and it is very doubtful it would be anything close to what the writers of the movie ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ had created.