Startle response to short acoustic stimuli in rats
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The acoustic startle (ASR) is a transient motor response to an unexpected, intensive stimulus. The response is determined by stimulus parameters such as its intensity, rise time and duration. The dependence of the ASR on the stimulus duration is more complex than could be assumed from physical properties of acoustic pulse. This effect attracted the attention of few researchers. Some authors reported noticeable changes in the ASR amplitude only for very short (less than 4-6 ms) acoustic pulses. The systematic studies on the effect, however, have not been performed so far. The purpose of this study was to determine to what extent the ASR parameters are affected by the durations of the short stimulus. The amplitude of the acoustic startle reflex was assessed for a fixed tonal frequency (6.9 kHz), and for a variety of stimulus durations ranging between 2 and 10 ms. ASRs were studied in 11 adult, hooded rats exposed to a sequence of tone pulses (110 dB SPL) of different durations, presented in random order, with or without 70 dB white noise as a background. Statistical analysis revealed significant differences between ASR amplitudes for different durations. The startle amplitude increased with acoustic pulse duration and distinguishable differences were seen for stimulus duration between 2 and 8 ms. Further increase of pulse duration had no effect on ASR amplitude. The same pattern of changes was observed when the acoustic stimulus was presented with the white noise. In the tested range of stimulus duration no significant differences in the ASR latency were found. The observed differences may be attributed to changes of stimulus acoustic energy and to physiological characteristic of auditory system in the rat.
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