The effect of posture on the EMG pattern of the normal auditory startle reflex was investigated. The startle response to an unexpected auditory tone was studied in eleven normal subjects when standing, and in six normal subjects when sitting relaxed or tonically plantar flexing both feet. Reflex EMG activity was recorded in the tibialis anterior and soleus about twice as frequently when standing, than when sitting relaxed. In addition, the median latencies to onset of reflex EMG activity in the tibialis anterior and soleus were about 40 and 60 ms shorter during standing, than when sitting relaxed. No short latency EMG activity was recorded in the calf muscles during tonic plantar flexion of the feet, while sitting. The effect of posture on the EMG pattern of the pathological auditory startle reflex was studied in five patients with hyperekplexia. In three patients the latency to onset of reflex EMG activity in the tibialis anterior was shorter when standing, than when sitting relaxed. The EMG pattern of the reflex response to sound was studied in detail in two of these patients and consisted of up to three successive components. The expression of each EMG component depended on the postural set of the limbs. In particular, a distinct short latency component was found in posturally important muscles following auditory stimulation. This short latency component was not recorded when sitting relaxed. It is concluded that the EMG pattern of the physiological and pathological auditory startle response is not fixed, but may change with the postural stance of the body. This finding supports the theory that the normal startle reflex and the abnormal startle reflex in hyperekplexia have a common brainstem origin.
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