Active forgetting of olfactory memories in Drosophila

Prog Brain Res. 2014;208:39-62. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63350-7.00002-4.


Failure to remember, or forgetting, is a phenomenon familiar to everyone and despite more than a century of scientific inquiry, why we forget what we once knew remains unclear. If the brain marshals significant resources to form and store memories, why is it that these memories become lost? In the last century, psychological studies have divided forgetting into decay theory, in which memory simply dissipates with time, and interference theory, in which additional learning or mental activity hinders memory by reducing its stability or retrieval (for review, Dewar et al., 2007; Wixted, 2004). Importantly, these psychological models of forgetting posit that forgetting is a passive property of the brain and thus a failure of the brain to retain memories. However, recent neuroscience research on olfactory memory in Drosophila has offered evidence for an alternative conclusion that forgetting is an "active" process, with specific, biologically regulated mechanisms that remove existing memories (Berry et al., 2012; Shuai et al., 2010). Similar to the bidirectional regulation of cell number by mitosis and apoptosis, protein concentration by translation and lysosomal or proteomal degradation, and protein phosphate modification by kinases and phosphatases, biologically regulated memory formation and removal would be yet another example in biological systems where distinct and separate pathways regulate the creation and destruction of biological substrates.

Keywords: Drosophila; active forgetting; decay; interference; memory; olfactory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*