“The protagonist witnesses his colleague fall from heights to death and ends up being deeply traumatized. As a result, he develops severe acrophobia, rendering him unable to climb to heights.”
In Hitchcock’s movie “Vertigo,” the protagonist suffers from a symptom of fear combined with a terrifying memory (colleague’s death) and a particular stimulus (heights). He gets terrified at any height even if it is free from threats to safety. This is similar to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The locals in the city of Pohang who experienced the 2017 earthquake still have to live with the fear from “the day.”
As such, phobias or PTSD are resulted from certain stimuli that trigger the fear imprinted in one’s memories. Recently, a new treatment, which is designed to alleviate phobias or the symptoms of PTSD by inhibiting the memories of fear inside our brains, is proving to be effective.
A research team led by Park Ji-na, a researcher from Life Science and Bioengineering department of KAIST, and Professor Kim Se-yoon published the findings of their animal experimentation to remove fearful memories by getting rid of a certain enzyme in our brains on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on January 28.
The researchers paid a particular attention to inositol metabolism enzyme, which is generated from the excitatory neurons in our brains. Inositol is a nutrient supplied from food, while inositol metabolism enzymes turn inositol into a substance that controls the activation of brains.
“There were a lot of difficulties in developing medicine for fear treatment since the process of extinguishing fear memories remained unidentified in most part, and even the factors found able to control memories tend to control learning abilities at the same time by design,” explained Prof. Kim. “Inositol metabolism enzymes would make a great target for new medicine development because they only remove fear memories without affecting learning abilities.”