Four burning questions for Karim Nader


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

On August 22, 2022, Nader will be honored with a symposium in his name focusing on the molecular and systems neurosciences of cognition.

He spent some time answering some questions about his research.

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

Karim Nader is the James McGill Professor in the McGill Department of Psychology

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

Not only the “younger generation” of 2012, but also some of the “older generation” now understand and accept the scientific fact that memories are not stored forever, but are fleeting and constantly evolving. Not only has mainstream thinking in the field of neuroscience changed; Findings from basic neuroscientific research on resolidification have generated enthusiasm and excitement among applied scientists seeking new treatments for mental disorders characterized by memory disorders.

As we speak, the number of experiments aimed at restoring memory in people with and without mental illness is growing exponentially. The hope is that the day when clinicians will be able to treat people with PTSD, phobias, addictions, OCD and more with resolidification-based treatments is not far off.

Since your seminal work in 2000, how closer have we come to reliably manipulating human memories?

Since my work in 2000, research on reconsolidation has matured significantly, to the point where an ever-increasing body of research has focused on targeting reconsolidation as a memory phase to manipulate memories of all kinds in humans . A review of this research provides strong support for the reconsolidation hypothesis; That is, memories are malleable to change upon their reactivation.

Notwithstanding the increasing evidence for reconsolidation, more research is needed to better understand the conditions and neurobiological mechanisms involved in this memory phase 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 was mentioned that your work inspired the plot of the film Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind. Can you tell us how this came about?

My 2000 discovery about erasing emotional memories aided by a very specific brain region – the amygdala – in rats and the 2004 sci-fi romance about erasing traumatic memories by targeting specific brain regions more than random. It has often been said that my discovery was seen as inspiring the eternal sunshine of immaculate mind. However, I have no conclusive evidence that the film’s plot was actually inspired by my work.

What do you wish for the future of memory research?

In the future, it would be essential to show the reconsolidation across all memory types and brain regions and to elucidate the neurobiological mechanisms involved in memory plasticity and stability. For example, an important question that has not yet been asked concerns the interplay between reconsolidation and long-term memory storage mechanisms: Does reconsolidation affect the neuronal substrate of long-term memory, and how specifically? Likewise, it is crucial to identify the range of so-called “boundary conditions” such as B. age or strength of memory, and how they affect reconsolidation. Finally, if we want to use reconsolidation as a therapeutic target in humans, more translational work is needed to unlock the full potential of reconsolidation.

Molecular and Systems Neuroscience of Cognition Symposium – Honoring Karim Nader, will take place on August 22 from 5 p.m. Find out more and register here.


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