The contactin-associated protein-like 2 (CNTNAP2) gene encodes for the CASPR2 protein, which plays an essential role in neurodevelopment. Mutations in CNTNAP2 are associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Rats with a loss of function mutation in the Cntnap2 gene show increased acoustic startle response (ASR) and decreased prepulse inhibition (PPI). The neural basis of this altered auditory processing in Cntnap2 knock-out rats is currently unknown. Auditory brainstem recordings previously revealed no differences between the genotypes. The next step is to investigate brainstem structures outside of the primary auditory pathway that mediate ASR and PPI, which are the pontine reticular nucleus (PnC) and pedunculopontine tegmentum (PPTg), respectively. Multi-unit responses from the PnC and PPTg in vivo of the same rats revealed sex-specific effects of loss of CASPR2 expression on PnC activity, but no effects on PPTg activity. Female Cntnap2 rats showed considerably increased PnC firing rates compared with female wildtypes, whereas the difference between the genotypes was modest in male rats. In contrast, for both females and males we found meager differences between the genotypes for PPTg firing rates and inhibition of PnC firing rates, indicating that altered firing rates of these brainstem structures are not responsible for decreased PPI in Cntnap2 rats. We conclude that the auditory processing changes seen in Cntnap2 rats are associated with, but cannot be fully explained by, differences in PnC firing rates, and that a loss of function mutation in the Cntnap2 gene has differential effects depending on sex.
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