Fearful memories found to be less scary in mice after inhaling xenon gas

Xenon may one day become a promising new treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following an investigation by researchers at Harvard Medical School, US.

Edward Meloni and colleagues exposed a group of 94 rats to frightening stimuli. Rats who were administered xenon gas during a critical period of time known as the reconsolidation window – when reactivated memories become temporarily susceptible to modification – showed less fear than those who were not.

Xenon achieved this effect by inhibiting glutamatergic NMDA receptors in the brain, involved in memory reconsolidation. Exposure to xenon gas at just the right time interrupts the reconsolidation process and prevents the recollection of powerful emotions such as fear.

If similar effects are seen in humans, xenon gas could be used to help individuals suffering from PTSD.  This treatment is particularly exciting because xenon has already been shown to be safe in humans, thanks to its use as an anaesthetic and diagnostic imaging agent.