JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE
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Sensory processing, and auditory processing in particular, is altered in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The typical maturation of the auditory system is perturbed in these individuals during early development, which may underlie altered auditory reactivity that persists in later life. Of the many genes that regulate the auditory system development, loss-of-function mutations in the CNTNAP2 gene are strongly associated with language processing deficits and ASD. Therefore, using a novel Cntnap2 knock-out rat model, we tested the impact of Cntnap2 loss on auditory processing, filtering, and reactivity throughout development and young adulthood in male and female animals. Although hearing thresholds were not altered in Cntnap2 knock-out animals, we found a reduction in response amplitudes and a delay in response latency of the auditory brainstem response (ABR) in juvenile Cntnap2 knock-out rats compared with age-matched controls. Amplitudes and latency of the ABR largely normalized by adulthood, indicating a delayed maturation of auditory processing pathways in Cntnap2 knock-out rats. Despite the reduced ABR amplitudes, adolescent Cntnap2 knock-out animals displayed increased startle reactivity accompanied by disruptions in sensory filtering and sensorimotor gating across various conditions, most of which persisted in adulthood. All of these observations show striking parallels to disruptions reported in ASD. Our results also imply that developmental disruptions of sensory signal processing are associated with persistent changes in neural circuitries responsible for implicit auditory evoked behavior, emphasizing the need for interventions that target sensory processing disruptions early during development in ASD.