Fear-free living through pharmaceuticals

Edward Willett @ 13-03-2009

800px-Propranolol_80mg “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!” President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said (about the time he was enacting policies that may have lengthened the Great Depression, so he may have been wrong about that, but still, it’s a good quote).

But thanks to a team of Dutch researchers, led by Merel Kindt at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, we may not even have fear to fear in the future: using the beta-blocker propranolol they weakened the fear response and fear memories in human volunteers. Not only that, the fear did not return (Via EurekAlert):

Before fear memories are stored in the long-term memory, there is a temporary labile phase. During this phase, protein synthesis takes place that ‘records’ the memories. The traditional idea was that the memory is established after this phase and can, therefore, no longer be altered. However, this protein synthesis also occurs when memories are retrieved from the memory and so there is once again a labile phase at that moment. The researchers managed to successfully intervene in this phase.

During their experiments the researchers showed images of two different spiders to the human volunteers. One of the spider images was accompanied by a pain stimulus and the other was not. Eventually the human volunteers exhibited a startle response (fear) upon seeing the first spider without the pain stimulus being administered. The anxiety for this spider had therefore been acquired.

One day later the fear memory was reactivated, as a result of which the protein synthesis occurred again. Just before the reactivation, the human volunteers were administered the beta-blocker propranolol. On the third day it was found that the volunteers who had been administered propranolol no longer exhibited a fear response on seeing the spider, unlike the control group who had been administered a placebo. The group that had received propranolol but whose memory was not reactivated still exhibited a strong startle response.

The volunteers could still remember the association between the spider and pain stimulus, but it no longer elicited any emotional response. The researchers hope this work may lead to new treatments for patients with anxiety disorders.

Being the SFfish guy I am, I’m thinking more in terms of fearless super-soldiers, but I’m sure that’s just me.

(Interestingly, propranolol is already used by musicians and actors to deal with stage fright.)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]drugs,medicine,psychiatry,psychology, pharmaceuticals, fear[/tags]

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3 Responses to “Fear-free living through pharmaceuticals”

  1. ivan says:

    I have sofered of social phobia, 25 years of my live, i’d like to know if this treatment, substance, could help me. Thanks.

  2. Paul Raven says:

    I think that’s a question for your doctor rather than a blogger, Ivan. 🙂

  3. Mary Anne says:

    So more than blocking just fear, is this drug blocking any emotional response? That’s a bit scary… In any case, it feels more realistic if using any pharmaceutical product, to do it as a supportive aid -under supervision of a professional- for the process of facing and overcoming fears that paralyze or block ourselves from change and personal growth; and not as a magical solution… It is also worth to ask: does this drug create any dependencies or addiction to it? Are there any collateral effects?