Sex differences in auditory subcortical function

Jennifer Krizman, Erika Skoe, Nina Kraus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Objective: Sex differences have been demonstrated in the peripheral auditory system as well as in higher-level cognitive processing. Here, we aimed to determine if the subcortical response to a complex auditory stimulus is encoded differently between the sexes. Methods: Using electrophysiological techniques, we assessed the auditory brainstem response to a synthesized stop-consonant speech syllable [da] in 76 native-English speaking, young adults (38 female). Timing and frequency components of the response were compared between males and females to determine which aspects of the response are affected by sex. Results: A dissimilarity between males and females was seen in the neural response to the components of the speech stimulus that change rapidly over time; but not in the slower changing, lower frequency information in the stimulus. We demonstrate that, in agreement with the click-evoked brainstem response, females have earlier peaks relative to males in the subcomponents of the response representing the onset of the speech sound. In contrast, the response peaks comprising the frequency-following response, which encode the fundamental frequency (F 0) of the stimulus, as well as the spectral amplitude of the response to the F 0, is not affected by sex. Notably, the higher-frequency elements of the speech syllable are encoded differently between males and females, with females having greater representation of spectrotemporal information for frequencies above the F 0. Conclusions: Our results provide a baseline for interpreting the higher incidence of language impairment (e.g. dyslexia, autism, specific language impairment) in males, and the subcortical deficits associated with these disorders. Significance: These results parallel the subcortical encoding patterns that are documented for good and poor readers in that poor readers differ from good readers on encoding fast but not slow components of speech. This parallel may thus help to explain the higher incidence of reading impairment in males compared to females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)590-597
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • ABR
  • Brainstem
  • Sex
  • Speech
  • Subcortical

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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