Sensitization of the startle reflex by footshock: blockade by lesions of the central nucleus of the amygdala or its efferent pathway to the brainstem

Behav Neurosci. 1989 Jun;103(3):509-18. doi: 10.1037//0735-7044.103.3.509.


Bilateral electrolytic lesions of the central, but not the lateral, nucleus of the amgydala blocked shock sensitization of startle (the increase in startle produced by presentation of ten 0.6-mA footshocks in rapid succession). Lesions of the central nucleus also decreased reactivity to shock (jumping and flinching) during shock presentation. However, this decrease in reactivity cannot account for the blockade of shock sensitization, because when a higher shock intensity (1.0 mA) was used, producing equivalent reactivity to that of controls at 0.6 mA, central nucleus lesions still blocked shock sensitization. Moreover, lesions of the caudal part of the ventral amygdalofugal pathway, which carries central nucleus efferents to the startle reflex pathway, also blocked shock sensitization. It is hypothesized that shock activates the central nucleus of the amygdala, which increases startle through modulation of the startle pathway. Activation of the amygdala by shock may be the unconditioned response relevant for fear conditioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Efferent Pathways / physiology
  • Electroshock
  • Fear / physiology
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission