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Emiliano Merlo

Dr Emiliano Merlo

Research Fellow


University of Cambridge

Research summary

My research focus is oriented to understand the molecular mechanisms that support the maintenance of fear memories. In particular, I am applying behavioural and molecular analysis to study the relationship between two key processes for the persistence of fear memories, the reconsolidation and extinction processes.

The presentation of an innocuous or conditioned stimuli (CS) paired with a harmful or unconditioned stimuli (US) induce a change in the subsequent behaviour of the animals in response to the CS, displaying what is called a conditioned response, in this case a fear response. This fear response is represented as a memory in the animal’s nervous system, and is long lasting, during up to the entire life in some cases.

If a well established and stable memory is recalled by a brief presentation of the CS, it could enter a phase of destabilization-restabilization, called reconsolidation, in which the function of different molecular mechanisms are necessary in order to maintain the memory and, in this case, the fear response to the CS. In the other hand, if the CS is presented several times or in a prolonged way, the behavioural outcome is the opposite, inducing an inhibition of the fear response to the CS, a process called extinction. Surprisingly, the extinguished fear response spontaneously recovers after time, bringing back the fearful behaviour in response to the CS.

In humans several maladaptive memory disorders such as post-traumatic stress, phobias, and drug addiction have a very profound and negative impact at the personal and sociological levels. For this reason, either the enhancement of extinction mechanisms or the blockade of reconsolidation process using pharmacological interventions are proposed as potential approaches to the treatment of memory disorders. Hence the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms underlying reconsolidation or extinction processes is critical to design and develop new and more effective treatments of such disorders.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

The Molecular Switch Underlying the Transition Between Reconsolidation and Extinction of Fear Memory

Scheme: Newton International Fellowships

Dates: Mar 2009 - Feb 2011

Value: £100,080