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April 1997

Startle Responses in Hereditary Hyperekplexia

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology, Leiden University Hospital, Leiden (Drs Tijssen and van Dijk), Department of Neurology, Leyenburg Hospital, The Hague (Dr Voorkamp), and Department of Neurology, University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen (Dr Padberg), the Netherlands.

Arch Neurol. 1997;54(4):388-393. doi:10.1001/archneur.1997.00550160034012

Background:  Patients with hereditary hyperekplexia have excessive startle responses that are accompanied by transient stiffness and also continuous stiffness in infancy. A point of mutation has been identified for the major form of hereditary hyperekplexia in the gene encoding the α1 subunit of the glycine receptor.

Objective:  To measure startle reflexes and autonomic responses in the major form of hereditary hyperekplexia in the original Dutch pedigree.

Design:  Startle reflexes and autonomic responses were examined by administering 3 series of 20 auditory stimuli at intervals of 10 seconds (90 and 113 dB) and 60 seconds (113 dB).

Setting:  The Department of Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology at the Leiden University Hospital, Leiden, the Netherlands.

Subjects:  Nine patients with the major form of hyperekplexia and 20 healthy controls. Of the 9 patients, 5 took medication. The patients are part of the Dutch hyperekplexia pedigree.

Main Outcome Measures:  Startle responses were quantified with latency periods and areas of electromyographic bursts of the orbicular muscle of the eye, sternocleidomastoid and biceps muscles, and the thenar muscles. Autonomic reactions were measured with psychogalvanic responses and beat to beat changes of blood pressure and heart rate.

Results:  The electromyographic bursts of the 4 muscles occurred in similar order in both patients and controls. The onset of the latency periods in the patient group was significantly (P<.001) prolonged in patients who took medication. Without medication, patients had shorter latency periods of the sternocleidomastoid muscle (P=.003) than controls. The electromyographic burst occurred significantly more often in patients than in controls (P<.001). The areas of the bursts were significantly larger in patients than in controls (P<.001); the degree of habituation was significantly stronger in patients than in controls (P<.001). The amplitude of the psychogalvanic response was increased in hyperekplexia, and the degree of habituation was significantly weaker in patients than in controls. Blood pressure and heart rate did not clearly react in either group.

Conclusions:  Motor startle responses are stronger and show more habituation in patients with hereditary hyperekplexia than in controls. The excessive responses include the psychogalvanic response. Increased responses do not necessarily indicate decreased habituation in hyperekplexia.

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