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J Psychopharmacol. 2005 Jan;19(1):39-45.

Sex effects in prepulse inhibition and facilitation of the acoustic startle response: implications for pharmacological and treatment studies.

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Department of Psychology, Division of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK.


Prepulse inhibition (PPI) refers to the reduction in the response amplitude to a startling stimuli (pulse) if it is preceded (i.e. 30-500 ms) by a weak stimulus (prepulse). If the time interval between the prepulse and pulse is more than 500 ms, then an increase in this response amplitude can be seen, termed prepulse facilitation (PPF). PPI is thought to represent an operational index of sensorimotor function whereas PPF is thought to reflect, at least to some degree, sustained attention. Interestingly, PPI is found to be sexually dimorphic, with men exhibiting more PPI than women when subjects are tested without regard to where they are in the menstrual cycle, and to be impaired in several neuropsychiatric disorders known to exhibit sex differences in their clinical presentation. PPF has received relatively less attention in both normal and clinical studies. This study examined sex differences in both PPI and PPF in 62 healthy subjects (34 women, 28 men) using a range of prepulse-to-pulse intervals to elicit PPI (30, 60, 120, 240 and 480 ms) and PPF (1000 and 2000 ms). Men showed higher PPI than women but women showed higher PPF compared to men. These results suggest that reduced PPI in healthy women is not a simple reduction but rather a shift of the inhibition/facilitation curve in the direction of facilitation in women, relative to men. Future studies investigating pharmacological and treatment effects using a prepulse modification paradigm in normal and clinical populations of both sexes would benefit from an examination of sex effects and assessments of both PPI and PPF.

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