The Biology of Forgetting—A Perspective

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Pioneering research studies, beginning with those using Drosophila, have identified several molecular and cellular mechanisms for active forgetting. The currently known mechanisms for active forgetting include neurogenesis-based forgetting, interference-based forgetting, and intrinsic forgetting, the latter term describing the brain's chronic signaling systems that function to slowly degrade molecular and cellular memory traces. The best-characterized pathway for intrinsic forgetting includes “forgetting cells” that release dopamine onto engram cells, mobilizing a signaling pathway that terminates in the activation of Rac1/Cofilin to effect changes in the actin cytoskeleton and neuron/synapse structure. Intrinsic forgetting may be the default state of the brain, constantly promoting memory erasure and competing with processes that promote memory stability like consolidation. A better understanding of active forgetting will provide insights into the brain's memory management system and human brain disorders that alter active forgetting mechanisms. Davis and Zhong review the neuroscience mechanisms for active forgetting, embedding these within types of forgetting established from experimental psychology. Intrinsic forgetting, one type of active forgetting that chronically erodes memory traces, may be the default state of the brain.




Davis, R. L., & Zhong, Y. (2017, August 2). The Biology of Forgetting—A Perspective. Neuron. Cell Press.

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