Increased acoustic startle responses in ibs patients during abdominal and nonabdominal threat

Bruce D. Naliboff, Allison M. Waters, Jennifer S. Labus, Lisa Kilpatrick, Michelle G. Craske, Lin Chang, Hideki Negoro, Hana Ibrahimovic, Emeran A. Mayer, Edward Ornitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Aims: Visceral hypersensitivity and symptom severity in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are both exacerbated by stress. The eye-blink startle response represents a noninvasive measure of central defensive responding. Evidence for central hyperexcitability was studied in IBS patients by examining potentiation of the startle reflex to a nociceptive threat. Methods: Acoustic startle responses were examined in female IBS patients (n = 42) and healthy controls (n = 22) during cued periods in which an aversive abdominal or biceps stimulation was impossible (safe), possible (imminent threat) or anticipated (period just before the imminent threat), and during a threatening context (muscle stimulation pads attached but no cues for stimulation). Results: Both groups showed potentiation of startle responses during the imminent threat condition compared with both the anticipation and safe conditions. Compared with controls, IBS subjects showed significantly larger startle responses during anticipation and imminent threat conditions after receiving an initial aversive stimulation. There were no group differences during the context threat manipulation. Moreover, in IBS patients but not controls, higher neuroticism was associated with larger startle responses during safe and anticipation conditions but not imminent threat, whereas anxiety symptoms were negatively associated with startle magnitude during imminent threat. Conclusions: Female IBS patients show increased startle responses to threat of aversive stimulation at both abdominal and nonabdominal sites compared with controls. The data represent the first demonstration of altered threat potentiated startle in a functional pain condition and provide support for the use of these paradigms in further evaluation of affective mechanisms in these disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)920-927
Number of pages8
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Acoustic startle response
  • Fear-potentiated startle
  • Functional bowel disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome


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