Startle Modulation in Children at Risk for Anxiety Disorders and/or Alcoholism

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    Dr. Grillon is with the Department of Psychiatry and Drs. Dierker and Merikangas are with the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.
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    Dr. Grillon is with the Department of Psychiatry and Drs. Dierker and Merikangas are with the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.
    Search for articles by this author
    Dr. Grillon is with the Department of Psychiatry and Drs. Dierker and Merikangas are with the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.
    Search for articles by this author
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      To examine the startle reflex as a possible vulnerability marker among offspring of parents with anxiety disorders and/or alcoholism.


      The subjects were 66 male and female offspring (aged 10 to 17 years) of probands who participated in a family study of comorbidity of alcoholism and anxiety disorders. Testing consisted of examining the startle reflex and its modulation by prepulse stimuli (prepulse facilitation and prepulse inhibition).


      Different components of the startle discriminated among children of parents with anxiety disorders, children of alcoholics, and children of normal controls. Specifically, startle magnitude was elevated in children with a parental hostory of an anxiety disorder, whereas startle habituation and prepulse inhibition were impaired in children with a parental history of alcoholism.


      These findings suggest that individual differences in the startle reflex may serve as a vulnerability marker for the development of anxiety disorders and alcohol problems. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry, 1997, 36(7):925–932.

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