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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1993;110(3):342-6.

Yohimbine-facilitated acoustic startle reflex in humans.

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  • 1National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, New Haven, CT 06516.


Preclinical studies have suggested the acoustic startle reflex (ASR) may be a useful animal model to investigate the neurochemical basis of anxiety and fear states. This work has revealed that the anxiogenic alpha-2 receptor antagonist, yohimbine, increases the amplitude of the ASR in laboratory animals. The present investigation evaluated the effects of yohimbine on the ASR in healthy subjects. Seven healthy subjects received IV yohimbine (0.4 mg/kg) or saline placebo on two separate days in a randomized double blind placebo control design. A trial of 2 tone frequencies with varied intensity (90, 96, 102, 108, 114 dB) white noise, instantaneous rise time, was delivered binaurally through headphones. Tones were delivered every 25-60 sec, for a 30 ms duration. Startle testing was done 80 minutes post infusion and lasted 15-20 minutes. Sign rank testing indicated yohimbine caused an overall increase in startle amplitude, as well as significant augmentation of startle amplitude at 96, 102, 108, 114 decibels but not at the 90 dB intensity. Sign rank tests indicated a significant reduction of startle latency by yohimbine at only the 96 dB intensity. Significant correlations were observed between startle and peak anxiety, startle and plasma MHPG, peak anxiety and plasma MHPG. This study demonstrates in healty human subjects an excitatory effect of yohimbine on the magnitude of the ASR and a decrease in its latency. In the context of the key role of this reflex in the alarm response, this finding adds to the array of documented behavioral, biochemical and cardiovascular effects of yohimbine in humans which support the relationship between increased noradrenergic function and anxiety states.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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