2011 Finalist

Roger L. Clem, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
Johns Hopkins University

Roger Clem is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He received his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University under the mentorship of Alison Barth. In his doctoral work, he investigated synaptic mechanisms of sensoryinduced plasticity in the neocortex. Since joining the laboratory of Rick Huganir, Dr. Clem has examined the role of AMPA-type glutamate receptor trafficking in emotional memory. His work explains how fear memories can be permanently weakened through behavioral training, a process akin to software uninstall routines, and provides new molecular targets for alleviating emotional trauma. Dr. Clem has accepted an appointment to Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he will investigate synaptic processes in memory formation and updating.

An Uninstall Function for Fear Memories

Memory is the essence of human identity. For some, however, a painful past is like a debilitating emotional storm lurking behind the slightest reminder. Coping in the aftermath of trauma can be aided by pharmacology and psychological therapy, but these approaches leave underlying emotion subject to resurface when least expected. In general, this is thought to reflect the relative imperviousness of memories once encoded in the brain. By understanding the dynamic molecular events at sites of fear memory storage, however, Dr. Clem has discovered that malleability of fear memories is subject to key molecular determinants. A provisional window of opportunity allows fear memories to be permanently weakened through the rearrangement of neuronal AMPAtype glutamate receptors by simple re-exposure to a threatening cue. Thus, the brain has self-editing repertoires zhat allow for adaptive updating of memories, and that could heavily inform our treatment of emotional disorders.

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