neurosciencestuff: This is how the brain forgets on…


This is how the brain forgets on purpose

Researchers from Ruhr-Universität 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. They
measured the brain activity in epilepsy patients who had electrodes
implanted in the brain for the purpose of surgical planning. The team
headed by Carina Oehrn and Professor Nikolai Axmacher outlines the
results in the journal Current Biology, published online on 6 September

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

Rhythmic brain activity and word test

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. A
test showed that the participants did indeed remember the words that
they were supposed to forget less well than the words they were supposed
to remember.

As they conducted the analysis, the researchers payed 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.
In the prefrontal cortex, oscillations between three and five Hertz were
more pronounced, i.e. in the so-called theta range. They were coupled
with increased oscillations at higher frequencies, namely between 6 and
18 Hertz, in the hippocampus.

The forgetting frequency

“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 in Bochum and now works at the University Hospital
in Marburg. “The activity in the hippocampus is not just suppressed;
rather, it is switched to a different frequency, in which currently
processed information is no longer encoded,” continues the

Potential therapy approach for 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 relive negative emotional memories
again and again.

“The prefrontal cortex, i.e. the brain region that exerts active
control over memory processes, may be activated for therapy purposes
through non-invasive  magnetic or electrical stimulation,” as Oehrn
outlines an initial idea. “Still, the benefits of this treatment will
have to be tested in future studies.”

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