Background: Modulation of the acoustic startle response by aversive sensory stimulation is a simple and objective indicator of emotionality in rodents and human beings that has been extremely valuable for the analysis of neural systems associated with fear and anxiety. We have described a paradigm for measuring fear-potentiated, whole-body acoustic startle in nonhuman primates and have developed a protocol for maintaining fear-potentiated startle over repeated sessions with minimal extinction to allow measurement of pharmacological effects on fear-potentiated startle by using within-subjects designs in relatively small groups of monkeys.
Methods: A novel, within-subjects testing protocol was used to examine the effects of three compounds in rhesus monkeys that have anxiolytic effects in rodents on fear-potentiated startle but that differ in their mechanism of action. Spontaneous vocalizations during testing also were recorded. Juvenile monkeys that were trained to associate a visual stimulus with a fear-inducing air blast to the face were tested after acute administration of different doses of buspirone diazepam, morphine, or vehicle.
Results: Monkeys rapidly developed a robust and persistent elevation of startle response in the presence of the CS during repeated testing sessions. Diazepam and morphine produced dose-related reductions of fear-potentiated startle. Buspirone did not significantly reduce fear-potentiated startle at the doses tested, although a trend was evident at the highest dose. All drugs reduced rates of coo vocalizations during startle testing.
Conclusions: These fear-potentiated startle results suggest that rhesus monkeys have a pharmacological profile with respect to these compounds that is closer to humans than to rats. This demonstrates the value of examining the effects of drugs on fear-potentiated startle in nonhuman primates.