Fear-potentiated startle in adolescent offspring of parents with anxiety disorders

Biol Psychiatry. 1998 Nov 15;44(10):990-7. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(98)00188-7.


Background: The startle reflex and its potentiation by aversive states was used as a possible vulnerability marker for anxiety disorders in adolescent offspring of parents with this condition.

Methods: The participants were 39 low-risk adolescents (16 male/23 female) with a parental history of no psychiatric disorder and 35 high-risk adolescents (18 male/17 female) with a parental history of anxiety disorders. The magnitude of startle was examined at baseline and during anticipation of an aversive stimulus (fear-potentiated startle).

Results: Startle was found to discriminate between children at high and low risk for anxiety disorders; however, different abnormalities for high-risk male and female subjects were observed. Startle levels, overall, were elevated among high-risk female subjects, whereas high-risk male subjects exhibited greater magnitude of startle potentiation during aversive anticipation.

Conclusions: Startle reactivity may serve as a vulnerability marker for the development of anxiety disorders. With its basic grounding in animal and human behavioral research, startle may enhance our understanding of the underlying neurobiological bases of human anxiety states.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Blinking / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Family
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reflex, Startle / genetics
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Biomarkers