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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Apr 9;106:226-232. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.03.035. [Epub ahead of print]

Cortisol suppression after memory reactivation impairs later memory performance.

Author information

1
Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology and Imaging of Condition, Department of Basic Neurosciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland; Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland.
2
Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology and Imaging of Condition, Department of Basic Neurosciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland; Department of Medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland.
3
Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology and Imaging of Condition, Department of Basic Neurosciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland; Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland; Department of Clinical Neurology, Geneva University Hospitals, Switzerland.
4
Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology and Imaging of Condition, Department of Basic Neurosciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland; Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and Vulnerability (CIGEV), University of Geneva, Switzerland; Swiss National Center of Competences in Research LIVES - Overcoming vulnerabilities: life course perspective, Lausanne and Geneva, Switzerland. Electronic address: Ulrike.Rimmele@unige.ch.

Abstract

Experiencing stressful or traumatic events can result in disabling clinical symptoms of maladaptive emotional memory retrieval, which are only partly addressed by the currently proposed treatments. Cortisol modulation has been shown to affect emotional memory retrieval and potentially reconsolidation, offering an opportunity for developing more efficient treatments for disorders with an emotional memory component. Here, we investigated if cortisol suppression after reactivation of emotional memories weakens later memory thereof. Forty healthy young men were tested in a randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind, and between-subject design, assigned either to a cortisol suppression (metyrapone) group or a placebo group. Participants of both groups, were presented with two emotional stories at an encoding session (Day 1). One of the two stories was later reactivated and followed by metyrapone vs. placebo administration (Day 3). Memory for both stories was tested at a recognition memory session (Day 7). In the group undergoing cortisol suppression after memory reactivation memory performance was weaker compared to the placebo group, tested four days after reactivation. This study shows that cortisol suppression can weaken memory for past events, possibly by altering reconsolidation processes and thus exerting long-lasting weakening effects on the original memory.

KEYWORDS:

Cortisol; Emotion; Memory; Metyrapone; PTSD; Reconsolidation

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