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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Aug;36(7):970-80. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.12.009. Epub 2011 Jan 26.

Hydrocortisone suppression of the fear-potentiated startle response and posttraumatic stress disorder.

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National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, United States; Boston University School of Medicine, United States.


This study examined the effects of oral administration of 20mg hydrocortisone on baseline and fear-potentiated startle in 63 male veterans with or without PTSD. The procedure was based on a two-session, within-subject design in which acoustic startle eyeblink responses were recorded during intervals of threat or no threat of electric shock. Results showed that the magnitude of the difference between startle responses recorded during anticipation of imminent shock compared to "safe" periods was reduced after hydrocortisone administration relative to placebo. This effect did not vary as a function of PTSD group nor were there were any significant group differences in other indices startle amplitude. Findings suggest that the acute elevations in systemic cortisol produced by hydrocortisone administration may have fear-inhibiting effects. This finding may have implications for understanding the role of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis function in vulnerability and resilience to traumatic stress.

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