When a low-salience stimulus of any type of sensory modality—auditory, visual, tactile—immediately precedes an unexpected startle-like stimulus, such as the acoustic startle reflex, the startle motor reaction becomes less pronounced or is even abolished. This phenomenon is known as prepulse inhibition (PPI), and it provides a quantitative measure of central processing by filtering out irrelevant stimuli. As PPI implies plasticity of a reflex and is related to automatic or attentional processes, depending on the interstimulus intervals, this behavioral paradigm might be considered a potential marker of short- and long-term plasticity. Assessment of PPI is directly related to the examination of neural sensorimotor gating mechanisms, which are plastic-adaptive operations for preventing overstimulation and helping the brain to focus on a specific stimulus among other distracters. Despite their obvious importance in normal brain activity, little is known about the intimate physiology, circuitry, and neurochemistry of sensorimotor gating mechanisms. In this work, we extensively review the current literature focusing on studies that used state-of-the-art techniques to interrogate the neuroanatomy, connectomics, neurotransmitter-receptor functions, and sex-derived differences in the PPI process, and how we can harness it as biological marker in neurological and psychiatric pathology.
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