Background: Prepulse inhibition of the startle reflex response refers to the ability of a weak prestimulus to transiently inhibit the response to a closely following strong sensory stimulus. This effect represents an operational index of sensorimotor gating and is found to be deficient in schizophrenia. Prepulse inhibition deficits in schizophrenia seem to be partially normalized by typical antipsychotics and more fully by some atypical antipsychotics. Early onset of schizophrenia, particularly in men, has been associated with abnormal brain maturation, profound neuropsychological deficits, and less responsiveness to antipsychotic medication. We evaluated the effects of the age of onset of illness, current positive and negative symptoms, and the type of medication (typical vs atypical) on prepulse inhibition of the startle response in schizophrenia.
Methods: Thirty-eight male schizophrenic patients and 20 healthy male controls underwent testing for prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle response.
Results: Earlier onset of illness was associated with reduced prepulse inhibition, while adult onset of illness was not. No significant relationships occurred between current symptoms and prepulse inhibition. Patients given typical, but not atypical, antipsychotics exhibited less prepulse inhibition compared with healthy controls.
Conclusion: Early onset of illness is associated with profound deficits in prepulse inhibition of the startle response in men with schizophrenia.