Deficits in startle-evoked arm movements increase with impairment following stroke

Claire Fletcher Honeycutt, Eric Jon Perreault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objective: The startle reflex elicits involuntary release of planned movements (startReact). Following stroke, startReact flexion movements are intact but startReact extension movements are impaired by task-inappropriate flexor activity impeding arm extension. Our objective was to quantify deficits in startReact elbow extension movements, particularly how these deficits are influenced by impairment. Methods: Data were collected in 8 stroke survivors performing elbow extension following two non-startling acoustic stimuli representing "get ready" and "go", respectively. Randomly, the "go" was replaced with a startling acoustic stimulus. We hypothesized that task-inappropriate flexor activity originates from unsuppressed classic startle reflex. We expected that increasing damage to the cortex (increasing impairment) would relate to increasing task-inappropriate flexor activity causing poor elbow extension movement and target acquisition. Results: Task-inappropriate flexor activity increased with impairment resulting in larger flexion deflections away from the subjects' intended target corresponding to decreased target acquisition. Conclusions: We conclude that the task-inappropriate flexor activity likely results from cortical or corticospinal damage leading to an unsuppressed or hypermetric classic startle reflex that interrupts startReact elbow extension. Significance: Given startReact's functional role in compensation during environmental disturbances, our results may have important implications for our understanding deficits in stroke survivor's response to unexpected environmental disturbances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1682-1688
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Reaching
  • StartReact
  • Startle
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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