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Processing in the sensory periphery involves various mechanisms that enable the detection and discrimination of sensory information. Despite their biological complexity, could these processing steps sub-serve a relatively simple transformation of sensory inputs, which are then transmitted to the CNS? Here we explored both biologically-detailed and very simple models of the auditory periphery to find the appropriate input to a phenomenological model of auditory cortical responses to natural sounds. We examined a range of cochlear models, from those involving detailed biophysical characteristics of the cochlea and auditory nerve to very pared-down spectrogram-like approximations of the information processing in these structures. We tested the capacity of these models to predict the time-course of single-unit neural responses recorded in the ferret primary auditory cortex, when combined with a linear non-linear encoding model. We show that a simple model based on a log-spaced, log-scaled power spectrogram with Hill-function compression performs as well as biophysically-detailed models of the cochlea and the auditory nerve. These findings emphasize the value of using appropriate simple models of the periphery when building encoding models of sensory processing in the brain, and imply that the complex properties of the auditory periphery may together result in a simpler than expected functional transformation of the inputs.

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