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Psychopharmacology

, Volume 117, Issue 4, pp 466–471 | Cite as

Yohimbine facilitated acoustic startle in combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

  • C. A. MorganIII
  • C. Grillon
  • S. M. Southwick
  • L. M. Nagy
  • M. Davis
  • J. H. Krystal
  • D. S. Charney
Original Investigation

Abstract

Preclinical and clinical studies have suggested that the acoustic startle reflex (ASR) is a useful 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 and in healthy human controls. Because of the growing body of data that support the hypothesis that severe stress results in substantial alterations in noradrenergic neuronal reactivity, the present investigation evaluated the effects of yohimbine on the ASR of 18 patients with PTSD and 11 healthy combat controls. Subjects received IV yohimbine (0.4 mg/kg) or saline placebo on 2 separate days in a randomized double blind placebo control design. A trial of two tone frequencies with varied intensity (90, 96, 102, 108, 114 dB) white noise and instantaneous rise time, was delivered binaurally through headphones. Tones were delivered every 25–60 s, for a 40-ms duration. Startle testing was performed 80 min post-infusion and lasted 15–20 min. Yohimbine significantly increased the amplitude, magnitude and probability of the ASR in combat veterans with PTSD, but did not do so in combat controls. Overall startle was significantly larger in the PTSD subjects; however, this did not account for the differential effect of yohimbine, since yohimbine had no significant effect in the control group. This study demonstrates an excitatory effect of yohimbine on the amplitude, magnitude and probability of the ASR in PTSD patients that is not seen in combat controls. 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 exaggerated startle symptomatology of PTSD.

Key words

Yohimbine Noradrenergic Anxiety PTSD 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. A. MorganIII
    • 1
    • 2
  • C. Grillon
    • 1
    • 2
  • S. M. Southwick
    • 1
    • 2
  • L. M. Nagy
    • 1
    • 2
  • M. Davis
    • 1
    • 2
  • J. H. Krystal
    • 1
    • 2
  • D. S. Charney
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderWest Haven VA Medical CenterWest HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA

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