In a recent study, researchers have found that xenon gas, which is used in anesthesia and diagnostic imaging, can help in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment. The gas may also help in the treatment of other memory related disorders.
Xenon gas can reduce memories of any traumatic events that occurred to someone. It is considered as an exciting breakthrough. With the new revelation, doctors will be able to help patients suffering from PSTD with a new treatment.
In the study, researchers examined if a low concentration of Xenon gas could interfere with reconsolidation, which is a state in which reactivated memorials of an individual can be modified. Whenever an emotional therapy is recalled by the individual, the brain restores that memory as a new memory. In the study, researchers tried to introduce xenon gas immediately after reactivation of a fear memory to find out if the process can be changed.
In the study, researchers used an animal model of PSTD known as fear conditioning. It is used for training rats to be afraid of some specific environmental cues which were paired with footshocks. By exposing the rats to the same cues the memories were reactivated and the freezing response was measured. A single exposure of xenon gas was tried on them. The gas blocks NMDA receptors, which helps in memory formation. The exposure dramatically and continuously reduced fear response of the mice for up to 2 weeks. It seemed as if the mice did not remember the association of fear with the cues.
Xenon has some specific inherent properties which makes it attractive for use in dynamic processes like memory reconsolidation. There are other medicines that may also block NMDA receptors but they cannot get in and out of the human brain as quickly as xenon. It means the gas can be used at the exact time when the memory is reactivated in the brain. It can also be used for a limited amount of time and that may be a great help in using it as a therapy for humans.
Use of xenon and its results are very encouraging because the gas is already used in other purposes in case of humans. So, it can be safely used for the treatment of PSTD. The news that xenon can be used to inhibit traumatic memories, is a big news for the people suffering from trauma and related disorders.
There are some more questions which should be answered before xenon can be used on humans. More testing is necessary. It is important to test whether shorter exposure times and lower doses of xenon is also effective in blocking memory reconsolidation and fear. Testing is also necessary to find out if xenon is also effective in reduction of traumatic remote memories- the memories of the past event. The optimum duration and amount of xenon to be used to get the maximum benefit for people suffering from PSTD should be decided to ensure maximum results with minimum intrusion.
The researchers are also planning on further studies to find out if the effect of xenon is similar in humans as that was in rats. It may take some time, but before using it on humans for erasing traumatic memories, more strict tests will be needed. In case of patients suffering from PSTD, they often suffer from traumatic memories that include nightmares, distress, flashbacks, psychological reactions, trauma reminders. If xenon can eliminate all these traumatic memories and provide some relief to the patients, then it will be a big relief for the people who are suffering from the harsh mental agonies created by PSTD.