Effects of experimental context and explicit threat cues on acoustic startle in Vietnam veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder

Christian Grillon, Charles A. Morgan, Michael Davis, Steven M. Southwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

225 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: The hypothesis that exaggerated startle in Vietnam veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reflects an anxiogenic response to stressful contexts was tested. Methods: Thirty-four nonmedicated Vietnam veterans with PTSD, and 17 combat and 14 civilian non-PTSD controls participated in two testing sessions over separate days. Acoustic startle stimuli were delivered alone or in a test of prepulse inhibition. In the first session, startle was assessed without experimental stress. In the second session, startle was investigated during a stressful 'threat of shock' experiment, when subjects anticipated the administration of shocks during threat periods and during safe periods when no shocks were anticipated. Results: The magnitude of startle did not differ significantly among the three groups in the first session, but was increased throughout the threat of shock experiment in the PTSD veterans in the second session. The actual increase in startle in the threat compared to the safe condition did not significantly differ among the three groups. Prepulse inhibition was reduced in the PTSD veterans, compared to the non-PTSD civilians, but not compared to the non-PTSD veterans. Conclusion: Exaggerated startle in Vietnam veterans with PTSD reflects an anxiogenic response to an environment that is experienced as stressful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1027-1036
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Volume44
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Nov 1998
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Contextual fear
  • PTSD
  • Startle reflex
  • Stress
  • Veterans

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