Research ArticlePSYCHOLOGY

Propofol-induced deep sedation reduces emotional episodic memory reconsolidation in humans

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Science Advances  20 Mar 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 3, eaav3801
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav3801


The adjustment of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors associated with emotional memories is central to treating psychiatric disorders. Recent research, predominantly with laboratory animals, indicates that memories can become temporarily sensitive to modification following reactivation, before undergoing reconsolidation. A method to selectively impair reconsolidation of specific emotional or traumatic memories in humans could translate to an effective treatment for conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder. We tested whether deep sedation could impair emotional memory reconsolidation in 50 human participants. Administering the intravenous anesthetic propofol following memory reactivation disrupted memory for the reactivated, but not for a non-reactivated, slideshow story. Propofol impaired memory for the reactivated story after 24 hours, but not immediately after propofol recovery. Critically, memory impairment occurred selectively for the emotionally negative phase of the reactivated story. One dose of propofol following memory reactivation selectively impaired subsequent emotional episodic memory retrieval in a time-dependent manner, consistent with reconsolidation impairment.

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