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Robust and replicable measurement for prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle response

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Measuring animal behavior in the context of experimental manipulation is critical for modeling, and understanding neuropsychiatric disease. Prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle response (PPI) is a behavioral phenomenon studied extensively for this purpose, but the results of PPI studies are often inconsistent. As a result, the utility of this phenomenon remains uncertain. Here, we deconstruct the phenomenon of PPI and confirm several limitations of the methodology traditionally utilized to describe PPI, including that the underlying startle response has a non-Gaussian distribution, and that the traditional PPI metric changes with different stimuli. We then develop a novel model that reveals PPI to be a combination of the previously appreciated scaling of the startle response, as well as a scaling of sound processing. Using our model, we find no evidence for differences in PPI in a rat model of Fragile-X Syndrome (FXS) compared with wild-type controls. These results in the rat provide a reliable methodology that could be used to clarify inconsistent PPI results in mice and humans. In contrast, we find robust differences between wild-type male and female rats. Our model allows us to understand the nature of these differences, and we find that both the startle-scaling and sound-scaling components of PPI are a function of the baseline startle response. Males and females differ specifically in the startle-scaling, but not the sound-scaling, component of PPI. These findings establish a robust experimental and analytical approach that has the potential to provide a consistent biomarker of brain function.

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