The cochlea maps tones with different frequencies to distinct anatomical locations. For instance, a faint 5000-hertz tone produces brisk responses at a place approximately 8 millimeters into the 18-millimeter-long guinea pig cochlea, but little response elsewhere. This place code pervades the auditory pathways, where neurons have "best frequencies"determined by their connections to the sensory cells in the hearing organ. However, frequency selectivity in cochlear regions encoding low-frequency sounds has not been systematically studied. Here, we show that low-frequency hearing works according to a unique principle that does not involve a place code. Instead, sound-evoked responses and temporal delays are similar across the low-frequency regions of the cochlea. These findings are a break from theories considered proven for 100 years and have broad implications for understanding information processing in the brainstem and cortex and for optimizing the stimulus delivery in auditory implants.
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