Men are more inhibited than women by weak prepulses

      This paper is only available as a PDF. To read, Please Download here.


      The acoustic startle reflex is normally inhibited when the startling stimulus is preceded by a weak prepulse. We studied “prepulse inhibition” (PPI) to assess potential gender differences in this operational measure of sensorimotor gating. A review of data from our previously published studies in psychiatric patients and normal controls indicated that startle in women was less inhibited by weak prepulses than was startle in men, and that this gender difference narrowed when stronger prepulses were used to elicit maximal levels of PPI. Based on these observations, new subjects were selected for study using our established criteria to exclude individuals with psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, or serious neurologic or medical illness. Replicating our preliminary observation, women exhibited significantly less PPI than men, with the gender difference being most notable under conditions with weak prepulses. Potentially confounding variables, including electrode impedance, startle amplitude, habituation and latency did not differ between men and women. PPI was then measured in male and female rats, where no gender differences were noted. These findings identify significant gender differences in PPI in humans, and suggest that inhibitory “gating” processes are more robust in men than in women, when assessed using a sensitive range of inhibitory stimuli.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Biological Psychiatry
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Allen L.S.
        • Gorski R.A.
        Sexual dimorphism of the anterior commissure and massa intermedia of the human brain.
        J Comp Neurol. 1991; 312: 97-104
        • Allen L.S.
        • Hines M.
        • Shryne J.E.
        • Gorski R.A.
        Two sexually dimorphic cell groups in the human brain.
        J Neurosci. 1989; 9: 497-506
        • Allen L.A.
        • Richey M.F.
        • Chai Y.M.
        • Gorski R.A.
        Sex differences in the corpus callosum of the living human being.
        J Neurosci. 1991; 11: 933-942
        • Andreasen N.C.
        • Nasrallah H.A.
        • Dunn V.
        • et al.
        Structural abnormalities in the frontal system in schizophrenia: A magnetic resonance imaging study.
        Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1986; 43: 136-144
        • Blumenthal T.D.
        • Gescheider G.A.
        Modification of the acoustic startle reflex by a tactile prepulse: The effects of stimulus onset asynchrony and prepulse intensity.
        Psychophysiology. 1987; 24: 320-327
        • Braff D.
        • Stone C.
        • Callaway E.
        • Geyer M.
        • Glick I.
        • Bali L.
        Prestimulus effects on human startle reflex in normals and schizophrenics.
        Psychophysiology. 1978; 15: 339-343
        • Braff D.L.
        • Grillon C.
        • Geyer M.A.
        Gating and habituation of the startle reflex in schizophrenic patients.
        Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1992; 49: 206-215
        • Bruyn G.W.
        Huntington's chorea: Historical, clinical and laboratory synopsis.
        in: Handbook of Clinical Neurology. vol. 6. North Holland, Amsterdam1986: 298-378
      1. Butler RW, Jenkins MA, Braff DL. On the abnormality of normal comparison groups: The identification of psychosis-proneness and substance abuse in putative normal research subjects. Am J Psychiatry (in press).

        • Cooper L.A.
        Individual differences in visual comparison processes.
        Percept Psychophysics. 1976; 19: 433-444
        • Cooper L.
        Strategies for visual comparison and representation: Individual differences.
        in: Sternberg R.J. Advances in the Psychology of Human Intelligence. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ1982: 77-174
        • DelPezzo E.M.
        • Hoffman H.S.
        Attentional factors in the inhibition of a reflex by a visual stimulus.
        Science. 1980; 210: 673-674
        • Davis M.
        The mammalian startle response.
        in: Eaton R.C. Neural Mechanisms of Startle Behavior. Plenum Press, New York1984: 287-342
        • Graham F.
        The more or less startling effects of weak prestimulation.
        Psychophysiology. 1975; 12: 238-248
        • Hines M.
        • Allen L.S.
        • Gorski R.A.
        Sex differences in subregions of the medial nucleus of the amygdala and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis of the rat.
        Brain Res. 1992; 579: 321-326
        • Hruska R.E.
        Elevation of striatal dopamine receptors by estrogen: Dose and time studies.
        J Neurochem. 1986; 47: 1908-1915
        • Ison J.R.
        • McAdam D.W.
        • Hammond G.R.
        Latency and amplitude changes in the acoustic startle reflex produced by variations in auditory prestimulation.
        Physiol Behav. 1973; 10: 1035-1039
        • Josiassen R.C.
        • Johnson M.M.
        Age, gender and ERPs in schizophrenia: Let's at least handle the easy ones.
        Schizophr Res. 1988; 1: 365-367
        • Kail R.
        • Carter P.
        • Pellegrino J.
        The locus in sex differences in spatial ability.
        Percept Psychophysics. 1979; 26: 182-186
        • Maccoby E.E.
        • Jacklin C.N.
        The Psychology of Sex Differences.
        Stanford University Press, Stanford1974
        • McGhie A.
        • Chapman J.
        Disorders of attention and perception in early schizophrenia.
        Br J Med Psychol. 1961; 34: 102-116
        • Nicole L.
        • Lesage A.
        • Lalonde P.
        Lower incidence and increased male: female ratio in schizophrenia.
        Br J Psychiatry. 1992; 161: 556-557
        • Ornitz E.M.
        • Guthrie D.
        • Sadeghpour M.
        • Sugiyama T.
        Maturation of prestimulation-induced startle modulation in girls.
        Psychophysiology. 1991; 28: 11-20
        • Ornitz E.M.
        • Hanna G.L.
        • de Traversay J.
        Prestimulation-induced startle modulation in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and nocturnal enuresis.
        Psychophysiology. 1992; 29: 437-451
        • Perlick D.
        • Stastny P.
        • Mattis S.
        • Teresi J.
        Contribution of family, cognitive and clinical dimensions to long-term out-come in schizophrenia.
        Schizophr Res. 1992; 6: 257-265
        • Petersen A.C.
        • Wittig M.A.
        Sex-related differences in cognitive functioning: An overview.
        in: Wittig M.A. Petersen A.C. Sex-Related Differences in Cognitive Functioning. Academic Press, New York1979
        • Rasmussen S.A.
        • Eisen J.L.
        Epidemiology of obsessive compulsive disorder.
        J Clin Psychiatry. 1990; 51: 10-13
        • Swerdlow N.R.
        • Caine S.B.
        • Geyer M.A.
        • Swenson M.R.
        • Downs N.S.
        • Braff D.L.
        Sensorimotor gating deficits in Schizophrenia and Huntington's Disease and in rats after manipulation of hippocampus-accumbens circuity.
        Int Cong Schiz Res. 1991; (Abstr)
        • Swerdlow N.R.
        • Caine S.B.
        • Braff D.L.
        • Geyer M.A.
        Neural substrates of sensorimotor gating of the startle reflex: A review of recent findings and their implications.
        J Psychopharmacol. 1992; 6: 176-190
        • Swerdlow N.R.
        • Benbow C.H.
        • Zisook S.
        • Geyer M.A.
        • Braff D.L.
        A preliminary assessment of sensorimotor gating in patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
        Biol Psychiatry. 1993; 33: 298-301