The increasing rates of diagnosis for PTSD call for development of an effective treatment protocol to alleviate suffering associated with the symptoms of PTSD. The phenomena of reconsolidation possibly offers a cognitive process which may be therapeutically manipulated to benignly alter traumatic memories into less threatening memories. Biological components and mechanisms of reconsolidation are being progressively discovered. Therapeutic modalities constructed in the past have shown limited efficacy, but with greater knowledge from research may be restructured so as to provide effective relief from PTSD for patients.
Reconsolidation as an Aid in PTSD Treatment
Over the last quarter century, the rise in warfare and displaced populations (refugees), and natural as well as technologically-driven disasters (e.g., chemical or nuclear) has helped fuel a dramatic increase in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) across the globe (MacFarlane, 2000; Rogge, 2003). While pharmacological interventions are successful in temporarily relieving many of the symptoms associated with PTSD such as depression and anxiety, they have shown little effectiveness in altering the persistent traumatic memories that drive psychological symptoms for sufferers (Sharpless & Barber, 2011). However, recent neuroscience research on a brain process known as reconsolidation may improve the prognosis for recovery from PTSD. By incorporating the phenomena of reconsolidation into therapeutic approaches for PTSD it is hoped that a fundamental manipulation of patient's traumatic memories into altered, less stressful memories may occur. Consequently, the bases for anxiety, depression, and avoidance behaviors stemming from PTSD traumata could be reduced or eliminated. The key to this hope is reconsolidation.
An understanding of reconsolidation requires a knowledge of an associated brain process, consolidation. Memory consolidation is the process whereby newly learned information is formatted into long-term memory within the brain. Consolidation has two stages: late phase long-term potentiation (late LTP), also known as synaptic consolidation, and system consolidation. The former stage is short and begins immediately upon learning new information and is finished relatively quickly - within a few minutes to an hour. In contrast, system consolidation occurs over a period of weeks to months and involves development of unique neural pathways within the cortex (Dudai, 2004).
The neural mechanisms of these two stages involve different brain structures. Late LTP is centered around constant activity of the hippocampus as it stimulates memory-specific neuronal pathways in the cortex, repeatedly sending signals into the new pathways to strengthen them. These unique pathways are known as a memory trace (Dudai, 2004). Later, during the longer phase of system consolidation, the bulk of neural activity for the memory shifts to the cortex (Born &...