Here’s how the brain forgets on purpose!

Washington: Two brain regions apparently play a pivotal role in forgetting, as per a new study.

Researchers from Ruhr-Universitat Bochum and the University Hospital of Gießen and Marburg, in collaboration with colleagues from Bonn, the Netherlands, and the UK, have analysed what happens in the brain when humans want to voluntarily forget something.

They identified two areas of the brain – the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus – whose activity patterns are characteristic for the process of forgetting.

The team headed by Carina Oehrn and Professor Nikolai Axmacher measured the brain activity in epilepsy patients who had electrodes implanted in the brain for the purpose of surgical planning.

“In the past century, memory research focused primarily on understanding how information can be successfully remembered. However, forgetting is crucial for emotional wellbeing, and it enables humans to focus on a task,” said Axmacher.

The researchers recorded the brain activity of 22 patients, who had electrodes implanted either in the prefrontal cortex or in a deeper structure, the hippocampus. They presented the participants with a number of words, asking them either to remember or to forget them.

As they conducted the analysis, the researchers paid close attention to the synchronous rhythmic activity in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. During active forgetting, oscillations in both areas of the brain showed characteristic changes in specific frequency bands.

“The data showed us that during active forgetting, the activity in the hippocampus, an important region for memory, is regulated by the prefrontal cortex,” explains Carina Oehrn, who was initially involved in the research project.

Potential therapy approach for a posttraumatic stress disorder.

The team believes that research into voluntary forgetting might constitute the basis of potential new therapies of posttraumatic stress disorder, which causes patients to relieve negative emotional memories again and again.

The full findings are present in the journal- Current Biology.