Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit α7-knockout mice exhibit degraded auditory temporal processing

Richard A. Felix, Vicente A. Chavez, Dyana M. Novicio, Barbara J. Morley, Christine V. Portfors

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The CHRNA7 gene that encodes the α7-subunit of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7-nAChR) has been associated with some autism spectrum disorders and other neurodevelopmental conditions characterized, in part, by auditory and language impairment. These conditions may include auditory processing disorders that represent impaired timing of neural activity, often accompanied by problems understanding speech. Here, we measure timing properties of sound-evoked activity via the auditory brainstem response (ABR) of α7-nAChR knockout mice of both sexes and wild-type colony controls. We find a significant timing delay in evoked ABR signals that represents midbrain activity in knockouts. We also examine spike-timing properties of neurons in the inferior colliculus, a midbrain nucleus that exhibits high levels of α7-nAChR during development. We find delays of evoked responses along with degraded spiking precision in knockout animals. We find similar timing deficits in responses of neurons in the superior paraolivary nucleus and ventral nucleus of the lateral lemniscus, which are brainstem nuclei thought to shape temporal precision in the midbrain. In addition, we find that other measures of temporal acuity including forward masking and gap detection are impaired for knockout animals. We conclude that altered temporal processing at the level of the brainstem in α7-nAChR-deficient mice may contribute to degraded spike timing in the midbrain, which may underlie the observed timing delay in the ABR signals. Our findings are consistent with a role for the α7-nAChR in types of neurodevelopmental and auditory processing disorders and we identify potential neural targets for intervention. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Disrupted signaling via the α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7-nAChR) is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders that include impaired auditory processing. The underlying causes of dysfunction are not known but a common feature is abnormal timing of neural activity. We examined temporal processing of α7-nAChR knockout mice and wild-type controls. We found degraded spike timing of neurons in knockout animals, which manifests at the level of the auditory brainstem and midbrain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-465
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Auditory disorders
  • Autism
  • Forward masking
  • Gap detection
  • Inferior colliculus
  • Superior paraolivary nucleus
  • Ventral nucleus of the lateral lemniscus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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