Atypical processing of tones and phonemes in Rett Syndrome as biomarkers of disease progression

Olga V. Sysoeva, Sophie Molholm, Aleksandra Djukic, Hans Peter Frey, John J. Foxe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Due to severe motor impairments and the lack of expressive language abilities seen in most patients with Rett Syndrome (RTT), it has proven extremely difficult to obtain accurate measures of auditory processing capabilities in this population. Here, we examined early auditory cortical processing of pure tones and more complex phonemes in females with Rett Syndrome (RTT), by recording high-density auditory evoked potentials (AEP), which allow for objective evaluation of the timing and severity of processing deficits along the auditory processing hierarchy. We compared AEPs of 12 females with RTT to those of 21 typically developing (TD) peers aged 4–21 years, interrogating the first four major components of the AEP (P1: 60–90 ms; N1: 100–130 ms; P2: 135–165 ms; and N2: 245–275 ms). Atypicalities were evident in RTT at the initial stage of processing. Whereas the P1 showed increased amplitude to phonemic inputs relative to tones in TD participants, this modulation by stimulus complexity was absent in RTT. Interestingly, the subsequent N1 did not differ between groups, whereas the following P2 was hugely diminished in RTT, regardless of stimulus complexity. The N2 was similarly smaller in RTT and did not differ as a function of stimulus type. The P2 effect was remarkably robust in differentiating between groups with near perfect separation between the two groups despite the wide age range of our samples. Given this robustness, along with the observation that P2 amplitude was significantly associated with RTT symptom severity, the P2 has the potential to serve as a monitoring, treatment response, or even surrogate endpoint biomarker. Compellingly, the reduction of P2 in patients with RTT mimics findings in animal models of RTT, providing a translational bridge between pre-clinical and human research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number188
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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