Modulation of naturalistic maladaptive memories using behavioural and pharmacological reconsolidation-interfering strategies: A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical and ‘sub-clinical’ studies.

Katie H Walsh a, Ravi K Das a, Michael E Saladinb , Sunjeev K Kamboja*


Consolidated memories can undergo enduring modification through retrieval-dependent treatments that modulate reconsolidation. This has been suggested to represent a potentially transformative clinical strategy for weakening or overwriting the maladaptive memories that underlie substance use and anxiety/trauma-related disorders. However, the ability to modulate naturalistic maladaptive memories may be limited by ‘boundary conditions’ imposed on reconsolidation by the nature of these memories. As such, the true potential of ‘reconsolidation therapy’ is currently unknown. Here, we report a meta-analyses of behavioural and pharmacological studies examining retrieval-dependent modulation of reward and threat memories in (sub)clinical substance use and anxiety/trauma respectively.
Of 4936 publications assessed for eligibility, 7 studies of substance use, and 9 of anxiety (phobia) and trauma-related symptoms were included in the meta-analyses. Overall, the findings were in the predicted direction, with the majority of effect sizes favouring the ‘Retrieval + Treatment’ condition. However, the magnitude of effects depended upon the nature of the treatment type, with pharmacological interventions (relative to behavioural strategies) showing a clearer beneficial effect in studies of phobia/trauma and post-retrieval behavioural strategies, a (significantly) larger effect in substance use studies. However, high levels of heterogeneity and small sample sizes limit the strength of conclusions that can be drawn at this stage of inquiry. We hope this review will provide an impetus to address these issues in future research.