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Keywords:

  • Bipolar disorder;
  • High risk;
  • Trait deficit;
  • Startle;
  • Affective pictures;
  • Affect dysregulation

Abstract

We examined whether startle abnormalities are present in bipolar disorder (BD) patients and their unaffected siblings. Twenty-one remitted patients with BD, 19 unaffected siblings, and 42 controls were presented with 18 pleasant, 18 unpleasant, and 18 neutral pictures. Acoustic probes (104 dB) were presented during 12 of 18 pictures in each affective category at 300, 3000, and 4500 ms after picture onset, so that there were 4 pictures per valence per probe onset type. Baseline startle was assessed during blank screens and was found reduced in patients and sibling groups. We found startle inhibition with the 300 probes and a linear increase in amplitude with valence with the late probes in controls; these effects were absent in patients and their siblings. Low startle and blunted startle reactivity may represent trait deficits in remitted BD patients and their relatives, possibly associated with attentional deficits and adaptive down-regulation of emotion.