Inhibiting a kinase, an enzyme that change proteins, called Cdk5 facilitates the extinction of fear learned in a particular context, Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and colleagues showed.
This is interesting. If I’m reading the article right, they have chemically prevented a fear of a particular thing. They shocked the mice whenever they went to a certain spot until they were afraid of it. The more Cdk5 activity in their brains, the more fear. But when they cut down the activity, the mice were okay.
I’m not quite sure how this translates to humans, though. For example, I am quite rationally afraid of being eaten by a lion. I have never been close enough to a lion to really express that fear, but it is a fear nevertheless. Now, let’s say you have inhibited the Cdk5 in my brain. Will I now happily approach a hungry-looking lion?
No, I won’t. My fear of the lion, or lack thereof, has no bearing on whether or not it will eat me.
I suppose that what they really mean is that they could prevent me from being paralyzed by fear if I were ever in close proximity to a lion. But, I suspect I could prevent myself from being paralyzed by fear by spending a lot of time with lions and learning to avoid being eaten.
The article mentions soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and panic attacks, which “stem from the inability of the brain to stop experiencing the fear associated with a specific incident or series of incidents”. I guess I never realized that they were so technically precise.
It seems unlikely that they can stop rational fears. That is, I don’t believe that they can inhibit my Cdk5 and allow me to waltz through a war zone, explosions and people trying to kill me all around. But if I come home and still find myself waking up at night, screaming and remembering that experience, that seems like something they could turn off.
Anyway, I don’t mean to second guess MIT researchers. They probably know what they’re talking about.