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Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Oct 15;82(8):587-593. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.03.012. Epub 2017 Mar 28.

The Effects of β-Adrenergic Blockade on the Degrading Effects of Eye Movements on Negative Autobiographical Memories.

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Institute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, the Netherlands; Department of Clinical Psychology, Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Electronic address:
Department of Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University, the Netherlands.
Institute of Psychology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary.
Department of Clinical Psychology, Utrecht University, the Netherlands.
Cardiology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, the Netherlands.



Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an effective treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder. During EMDR, patients make horizontal eye movements (EMs) while simultaneously recalling a traumatic memory, which renders the memory less vivid and emotional when it is later recalled again. Recalling highly emotional autobiographical memories enhances noradrenergic neurotransmission. Noradrenaline (NA) strengthens memory (re)consolidation. However, memories become less vivid after recall+EMs. Therefore, NA might either play no significant role or serve to strengthen memories that are degraded by EMs. The present study was designed to test the latter hypothesis. We predicted that blocking NA would abolish the memory degrading effects of EMs.


Fifty-six healthy participants selected three negative autobiographical memories. One was then recalled while making EMs, one was recalled without EMs, and one was not recalled. Vividness and emotionality of the memories as well as heart rate and skin conductance level during memory retrieval were measured before, directly after, and 24 hours after the EM task. Before the task, participants received a placebo or the noradrenergic β-receptor blocker propranolol (40 mg).


There were no effects of EMs on memory emotionality or psychophysiological measures in the propranolol and placebo groups. However, in the placebo group, but not in the propranolol group, memory vividness significantly decreased from pretest to posttest and follow-up after recall+EMs relative to the control conditions.


Blocking NA abolished the effects of EMs on the vividness of emotional memories, indicating that NA is crucial for EMDR effectiveness and possibly strengthens the reconsolidation of the degraded memory.


Dual tasking; EMDR; Eye movements; Memory reconsolidation; Noradrenaline; Propranolol

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