Rats were presented with startle-eliciting tones after injection of clonidine (0.01, 0.02, 0.04, 0.08, 0.5, 1.0 or 2.0 mg/kg) or saline. Clonidine potently depressed startle amplitude and the effect was monotonically related to dose. Pretreatment with piperoxane (10 mg/kg) antagonized this effect but pretreatment with phentolamine (10 mg/kg) did not. Clonidine still depressed startle in acutely decerebrate rats and in rats with bilateral ablation of the locus coeruleus. Clonidine did not interfere with sensitization to background noise and did not interfere with the ability to startle but instead improved within-session habituation. The results represent one of the few instances in the literature where a drug appears to improve habituation without directly interfering with the ability to respond. The possibility that clonidine might affect startle by stimulating central epinephrine rather than norepinephrine receptors is discussed.
- Locus coeruleus
- α-Adrenergic antagonists