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BACKGROUND: Prepulse inhibition (PPI) has become a major experimental paradigm in the study of psychiatric disorders. In this study, a potential confound in measurement and interpretation of PPI, namely startle reactions to so-called "nonstartling" prepulses, was examined. METHODS: Prepulses of 80, 85, and 90 dB(A) were presented on their own or followed by a pulse of 115 dB(A) (lead interval: 120 msec). RESULTS: Even at only 80 dB(A), prepulses presented alone elicited a response in about 50% of trials; and, except in the first stage of the experiment, responses became more frequent as prepulse intensity increased. Importantly, PPI at 80 and 85 dB(A) was negatively correlated with response probability to prepulses presented alone. CONCLUSIONS: Prepulses reliably activate the very startle system that they are thought to inhibit, and a high level of responsiveness to prepulses is associated with relatively lower levels of PPI. These findings might hold important implications for clinical and psychopharmacologic studies of PPI, and we suggest that the extent and influence of prepulse-elicited startles should be routinely examined.


Journal article


Biol Psychiatry

Publication Date





98 - 101


Adolescent, Adult, Blinking, Dopamine, Electromyography, Electrophysiology, Female, Heart Rate, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Noise, Reflex, Startle