Modulation of the Acoustic Startle Response by the Level of Arousal: Comparison of Clonidine and Modafinil in Healthy Volunteers
Samuels ER, Hou RH, Langley RW,
Szabadi E, Bradshaw CM.
1Division of Psychiatry,
Psychopharmacology Section,
Medical School, Queen's Medical Centre,
University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.
Neuropsychopharmacology. 2007 Mar 7;


A sudden loud sound evokes an electromyographic (EMG) response from the orbicularis oculi muscle in humans together with an auditory evoked potential (AEP) and an increase in skin conductance (SC). Startle responses are inhibited by weak prepulses (prepulse inhibition, (PPI)) and may also be modified by the level of alertness. We compared the sedative drug clonidine and the alerting drug modafinil on sound-evoked EMG, AEP, and SC responses, on the PPI of these responses and on level of arousal and autonomic functions. Sixteen healthy male volunteers participated in four weekly sessions (clonidine 0.2 mg, modafinil 400 mg, their combination, placebo) in a double-blind, cross-over, balanced design. Responses were evoked by sound pulses of 115 and 85 dB (PPI) for 40 ms and recorded conventionally. Level of alertness, autonomic functions (pupil diameter, blood pressure, heart rate, salivation, temperature) and the plasma levels of the hormones prolactin, thyroid-stimulating hormone and growth hormone were also measured. Data were analyzed with analysis of variance with multiple comparisons. Both prepulses and clonidine attenuated all three startle responses and modafinil antagonized clonidine's effects on the EMG and AEP responses. None of the drugs affected PPI. Clonidine showed sedative and sympatholytic effects, and modafinil showed alerting and sympathomimetic effects. In conclusion, startle responses were susceptible not only to PPI but also to the level of arousal.

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