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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Impairments of Prepulse Inhibition of the Startle Response in Abstinent Alcoholic Male Patients

Prepulse inhibition (PPI) of the startle reflex, which refers to the ability of innocuous sensory events to reduce the startle reflex, has been described as an operational measure of sensorimotor gating that is reduced in several neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, but experience is lacking in addictions and alcoholism. The aim of this study was to examine the existence of impairments in the startle response and PPI in abstinent alcoholic men.

Testing for PPI was conducted on 60 abstinent alcoholic men aged 18–65 years (mean 46.37) who met DSM-IV criteria for alcohol dependence and had been abstinent for more than a month at the time of testing. The comparison group were compared with 37 sex- age- and education-matched controls without alcohol dependence.

Magnitudes of the startle reflex were lower in patients than in controls. The differences were statistically significant (P < 0.05) in trials with prepulses presented 30 and 120 ms before the onset of the startle stimulus. There was also a statistically significant (P < 0.05) reduced percentage of PPI when the prepulse was presented 30 ms before the startle stimulus.

These data suggest that sensory information processing mechanisms could be damaged in abstinent alcoholic patients. The fact that these findings are common to other psychiatric disorders could indicate the existence of a common vulnerability marker and explain the high degree of comorbidity between alcoholism and other mental illnesses.

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