Schizophrenic patients exhibit deficits in the prepulse inhibition of startle, an operational measure of the sensorimotor gating deficits that are theorized to contribute to cognitive disorganization. In rats, the activation of mesolimbic dopamine (DA) disrupts prepulse inhibition, providing a useful model of the similar deficits in sensorimotor gating in schizophrenic patients. Rats reared in isolation exhibit neurochemical and behavioral abnormalities suggestive of hyperactivity in mesolimbic DA systems. In the present studies, rats reared in social groups or in isolation were tested in startle response paradigms using 120 or 105 dB acoustic pulses, some of which were preceded (100 msec) by prepulses that were 2, 4, 8, or 16 dB above the 65 dB background. Isolation-reared animals were hyperreactive only in response to the initial few startle stimuli. The amount of prepulse inhibition was decreased significantly in isolation-reared animals, particularly when midrange 8 dB prepulses were used. A subsequent study replicated the effect of isolation rearing on prepulse inhibition and suggested that the deficit in sensorimotor gating exhibited by isolation-reared animals may be normalized by the administration of the DA antagonist raclopride (0.05 mg/kg). Hence, isolation rearing provides a nonpharmacological way to induce in rats a deficit in sensorimotor gating that is exhibited by schizophrenic patients.