Just one glass of wine could be enough for you to dismiss your bad memories and focus only on the good times, a new study suggests.
Researchers say that alcohol ‘hijacks’ the pathway that forms memory on a fundamental, molecular level.
It affects a gene involved with encoding whether a memory is pleasing or unpleasant and changes a protein the gene makes, which in turn makes you form ‘craving memories’.
One drink only changes the pathway for an hour, but three can change the pathway for 24 hours – which could explain why we forget being sick or stumbling home.
The team, led by Brown University in Rhode Island, says its findings may help explain why recovering alcoholics find it hard to stay on the wagon and that this could lead to forms of treatment that help decrease how long the craving memories last, or how intense they are.
A new study suggests that alcohol ‘hijacks’ the pathway that forms memory on a fundamental, molecular level, making us only remember good memories and forget bad ones (file image)
Senior author Dr Karla Kaun, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Brown University, told Daily Mail Online that she has been interested in why drugs of abuse, be it alcohol or opiates, produce rewarding memories despite being neurotoxins.
‘They produce side effects like hangovers and nausea, but we consider them rewarding,’ she said.
‘We wanted to understand what the molecular basis of that is and why they cause cravings.’
For the study, the team used fruit flies because they are attracted to alcohol and the molecular signals that form their memories of reward and avoidance are similar to humans.
The researchers compared these molecular signalling pathways to a domino effect. When the first domino falls, or molecule activates, it triggers more to follow it.
One of the downstream ‘dominoes’ is gene called the D2-like receptor. The gene makes a protein for neurons that recognize dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in our sense of reward.
‘The dopamine-2-like receptor is known to be involved in encoding whether a memory is pleasing or aversive,’ said co-author Dr Emily Petruccelli, an assistant Professor of biological sciences , at Southern Illinois University.
Alcohol takes over this memory formation pathway and, by changing the way proteins are expressed in these neurons, forms cravings.
Researchers found that this signalling domino effect did not turn the D2-like receptor gene on or off, nor did it decrease the amount of protein made.
Rather, it changed the version of protein that was being formed and, which leads to a misregulation of memory.
‘We were surprised because it may not be gene expression that is going up or down in the brain, but rather it’s changing from one form to other,’ said Dr Kaun.
‘It gives an understanding of this whole new layer of plasticity and why memories are formed.’
She explained that if this pathway works the same way in humans, then one glass of wine is enough to activate the pathway, but it will return to normal within an hour.
‘After three glasses, with an hour break in between, the pathway doesn’t return to normal until after 24 hours,’ she said.
Dr Kaun said she would like to study if these changes affect memories of other ‘reward behaviors’ such as how much someone likes sugar, how someone responds to other drugs of abuse such as opiates, and even rewards of sex.
However, addiction experts warn that while alcohol can make you ‘forget’ and even ease symptoms such as stress, worry, and negative thoughts – it is only for a short time before the effect wears off.
They say that alcohol can actually worsen symptoms associated with mood disorders such as depression because alcohol is a depressant itself.
‘We need to remember that this study is just on fruit flies,’ said Dr Matthew Polacheck, Director of Outpatient Services at the Hazelden Betty Ford Center Los Angeles, California.
‘They’re not waking up and having to raise children and go to work. They don’t have a brain that helps control impulsivity and regulate cognitive function.
‘It’s fascinating from a scientific standpoint but someone could get the wrong idea and start thinking they should be drinking.’
He adds that there is no cure for people who experience chronic diseases like addiction, but there is treatment.
‘People I’ve seen be successful are those who embrace the recovery community because now they’re building new connections and building new memories.’