Cortisol rapidly disrupts prepulse inhibition in healthy men

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 36, Number 1, p.109-114 (2011)


1873-3360 (Electronic)03

DOI Name (links to online publication)



Stress is known to affect sensorimotor gating (measured with prepulse inhibition of startle, or PPI), possibly improving perception of threat signals at the expense of other input during states of arousal. Stress also induces a variety of autonomic nervous system and endocrine responses, such as an activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The latter will result in the release of the stress hormone cortisol which is known to exert rapid and sustained action on several CNS processes. Since previous studies have not clarified whether and which stress response components may mediate effects on sensorimotor gating, this study asked whether a link may exist between cortisol and sensorimotor gating. We tested whether cortisol may affect PPI by assessing PPI before, during, and after non-stressful, covert 1mg IV cortisol infusions in 27 healthy men in a single-blind and placebo-controlled within-subject design. Cortisol induced a rapid reduction of PPI, with its maximum at 20min after administration, and PPI returned to baseline after another 20min. Startle magnitude in the absence of a prepulse was not affected. This rapid effect of the IV cortisol infusions is probably mediated by a non-genomic mechanism. We conclude that stress effects on sensorimotor gating may be mediated by glucocorticoids. The disruption of sensorimotor gating by the stress hormone cortisol may serve the processing of intense and potentially dangerous startling stimuli.