Four burning questions for Karim Nader

Professor Karim Nader is a leader in the field of memory research. Perhaps his most groundbreaking paper showed that recovered fear memories become changeable, requiring the stabilization of new protein synthesis through a process called “reconsolidation.” The compelling and mechanistic nature of Nader’s work was a paradigm shift for the field, inspiring studies that generalized this phenomenon across behavioral paradigms and species.

On August 22, 2022, Nader will be honored with a symposium on his behalf that will focus on the molecular and systemic neurosciences of cognition.

He took the time to answer a few questions about his research.

In your 2012 recorded TEDx talk, you mentioned that your 2000 paper on memory reconsolidation was criticized by the older generation of scientists, but the younger generation embraced it. Now that the “younger generation” of 2012 is ten years older, how has mainstream thinking about memory mechanisms changed?

Karim Nader is the James McGill Chair in McGill’s Department of Psychology

Research in the field of memory has exploded since the publication of this article. This is a good thing, because reinvigorated research on learning and memory has led to new discoveries that have revolutionized our understanding of memory in general; brain systems and mechanisms involved in memory stability and change; and advanced new hypotheses on the role of reconsolidation as a memory phase on human adaptation.

Not only the “younger generation” of 2012, but also some of the “older generation” now understand and have come to accept the scientific fact that memories are not stored once and for all, they are transient and evolve all the time. time. It is not just mainstream thinking in the field of neuroscience that has changed; the results of basic neuroscience research on reconsolidation generated enthusiasm and excitement among applied scientists who were on the lookout for new treatments targeting psychological conditions characterized by impaired memory.

As we speak, the number of experiments targeting memory reconsolidation in humans with and without psychological disorders is growing exponentially. The hope is that the day when clinicians can treat people with PTSD, phobias, addictions, OCD and more, the use of reconsolidation-based treatments is not far off.

How much closer are we to being able to reliably manipulate memories in humans since your groundbreaking 2000 paper?

Since my 2000s paper, research on reconsolidation has matured considerably to the point that an ever-increasing body of research has focused on targeting reconsolidation as a memory phase to manipulate memories of all types in people. ‘man. A review of this research provides strong support for the reconsolidation hypothesis; that is, memories are malleable to change upon reactivation.

Despite the growing evidence supporting reconsolidation, further research is needed to better understand the neurobiological conditions and mechanisms involved in this phase of memory in humans. This should come as no surprise given the complexity of human memory and the multitude of individual factors that determine human subjective experience.

It has been mentioned that your work inspired the plot of the movie Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind. Could you tell us how it happened?

My 2000 discovery about erasing emotional memories, which are supported by a very specific brain region – the amygdala – in rats and the 2004 sci-fi romance about erasing traumatic memories by targeting brain regions specific are more than fortuitous. It has often been said that my discovery was considered an inspiration for the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However, I don’t have definitive proof that the plot of the film was actually inspired by my work.

What are your hopes for the future of memory research?

In the future, it would be essential to show reconsolidation in all memory types and all brain regions as well as to elucidate the neurobiological mechanisms involved in memory plasticity and stability. For example, an important question that has not yet been answered concerns the interplay between reconsolidation and long-term memory storage mechanisms: does reconsolidation affect the neural substrate of long-term memory and with what precision? Likewise, it is crucial to identify the range of ‘borderline’ conditions, such as age or strength of memory, and their impact on reconsolidation. Finally, if we were to exploit reconsolidation as a therapeutic target in humans, more translational work is needed to unlock the full potential of reconsolidation.

The Symposium on Molecular and Systemic Neurosciences of Cognition – Tribute to Karim Nader, will take place on August 22 from 5 p.m. Learn more and register here.

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