Sex differences during development in cortical temporal processing and event related potentials in wild-type and fragile X syndrome model mice

J Neurodev Disord. 2024 May 8;16(1):24. doi: 10.1186/s11689-024-09539-8.


Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is currently diagnosed in approximately 1 in 44 children in the United States, based on a wide array of symptoms, including sensory dysfunction and abnormal language development. Boys are diagnosed ~ 3.8 times more frequently than girls. Auditory temporal processing is crucial for speech recognition and language development. Abnormal development of temporal processing may account for ASD language impairments. Sex differences in the development of temporal processing may underlie the differences in language outcomes in male and female children with ASD. To understand mechanisms of potential sex differences in temporal processing requires a preclinical model. However, there are no studies that have addressed sex differences in temporal processing across development in any animal model of ASD.

Methods: To fill this major gap, we compared the development of auditory temporal processing in male and female wildtype (WT) and Fmr1 knock-out (KO) mice, a model of Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), a leading genetic cause of ASD-associated behaviors. Using epidural screw electrodes, we recorded auditory event related potentials (ERP) and auditory temporal processing with a gap-in-noise auditory steady state response (ASSR) paradigm at young (postnatal (p)21 and p30) and adult (p60) ages from both auditory and frontal cortices of awake, freely moving mice.

Results: The results show that ERP amplitudes were enhanced in both sexes of Fmr1 KO mice across development compared to WT counterparts, with greater enhancement in adult female than adult male KO mice. Gap-ASSR deficits were seen in the frontal, but not auditory, cortex in early development (p21) in female KO mice. Unlike male KO mice, female KO mice show WT-like temporal processing at p30. There were no temporal processing deficits in the adult mice of both sexes.

Conclusions: These results show a sex difference in the developmental trajectories of temporal processing and hypersensitive responses in Fmr1 KO mice. Male KO mice show slower maturation of temporal processing than females. Female KO mice show stronger hypersensitive responses than males later in development. The differences in maturation rates of temporal processing and hypersensitive responses during various critical periods of development may lead to sex differences in language function, arousal and anxiety in FXS.

Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disorders; Frontal Cortex; Hypersensitivity; Language Impairments; Neurodevelopment; Sensory Processing Disorders; Temporal Processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / physiopathology
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory* / physiology
  • Female
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein* / genetics
  • Fragile X Syndrome* / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout*
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Fmr1 protein, mouse
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein