A new treatment for drug addiction and other anxiety disorders could be developed thanks to a new technique which allows a molecule in the brain to be blocked, effectively erasing "addictive" memories.
The research could lead to memory-control drugs that could be taken when addicts are most at risk of surrendering to their cravings, scientists believe.
The team of experts in Cambridge were able to reduce drug-seeking behaviour in rats by blocking a memory molecule in the brain. The findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that drug-associated memories can only be disrupted at the time they are recalled.
Professor Barry Everitt, who led the Medical Research Council-funded study, said: "The results suggest that efforts should be made to develop drugs that could be given in a controlled clinical or treatment environment in which addicts would have their most potent drug memories reactivated.
"Such treatments would be expected to diminish the effects of those memories in the future and help individuals resist relapse and maintain their abstinence."
Co-author Dr Amy Milton said: "This is a new approach to the treatment of drug addiction that has great potential."
She added that it could also be used to treat other neuropsychiatric disorders characterised by "maladaptive" memories, such as posttraumatic stress and phobic anxiety disorders.