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Neuroscience. 1999;91(4):1565-74.

Cochlear and trigeminal systems contributing to the startle reflex in rats.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Canada.


The startle reflex is evoked by strong acoustic or tactile stimuli, or by electrical stimulation of acoustic or tactile pathways. To dissociate the contributions of acoustic and tactile pathways, stimulating electrodes were placed in adjacent cochlear and trigeminal nuclei. The currents needed to evoke startle-like responses were an order of magnitude lower in ventral trigeminal sites (12-80 microA for a 0.1-ms pulse) than in cochlear nucleus sites (150-800 microA). At low threshold sites in both areas, brief acoustic stimuli were followed 0-4 ms later by a single electrical pulse and the current required to evoke startle was measured at several interstimulus intervals. Summation between the acoustic and electrical stimuli for startle was strong in both cochlear and trigeminal sites. Collision effects were found in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus when the electrical stimulus followed the ipsilateral acoustic stimulus by 2.0 ms, suggesting that acoustic startle is mediated by axons in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus. Collision effects were found at 4.0 ms if the electrical stimulus was presented in the contralateral pontine reticular formation, suggesting that acoustic signals mediating startle mainly cross to the pontine reticular formation. Collision effects were not found in medial or posterior sites in the cochlear nucleus, or trigeminal sites, suggesting that the neurons that mediate startle in these sites do not mediate acoustic startle. Therefore, acoustic startle is mediated through high threshold cochlear nucleus sites, while low threshold sites are non-acoustic, probably as a result of trigeminal or vestibular stimulation.

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