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Does drinking wipe your memory clean?


Scientists say your hippocampus may be to blame

December 31, 1996
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Anne McDermott

LA JOLLA, California (CNN) -- Greeting the new year with glass in hand is a long-standing tradition for many people. For some of them, another tradition follows the next morning, as they awaken to regret the things they barely remember doing the night before.

Why does alcohol make us forget? Scientists in Southern California think they're heading in the right direction for some answers.


In a series of experiments carried out at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, scientists got a bunch of lab rats drunk, then studied their brain activity to see what was happening. They say part of the reason for memory lapses might involve the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory processes.

Steven Henriksen heads the Scripps In Vivo Neurophysiology Lab responsible for the new alcohol study. His research group found that even relatively low doses of alcohol make it difficult for the hippocampus to process new information.

"Somebody who drinks too much, the next day doesn't exactly remember what happened during that time, but yet at the same time has the ability, unfortunately in certain cases, to drive home after drinking a lot," Henriksen said.


Knowing how memory loss may occur will lead to more experiments and more studies. Ultimately, Henriksen said, the studies could lead to substances that prevent or reverse the effects of alcohol.

Such findings are years away, a fact that Henriksen finds ironic. "I think it's extremely interesting to understand that, although alcohol has been around for many years, centuries, in human culture of course, we still don't know precisely how it works and what the deleterious effects are," he said.


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