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The hippocampus is critical to the memory for sequences of events, a defining feature of episodic memory. However, the fundamental neuronal mechanisms underlying this capacity remain elusive. While considerable research indicates hippocampal neurons can represent sequences of locations, direct evidence of coding for the memory of sequential relationships among nonspatial events remains lacking. To address this important issue, we recorded neural activity in CA1 as rats performed a hippocampus-dependent sequencememory task. Briefly, the task involves the presentation of repeated sequences of odors at a single port and requires rats to identify each item as “in sequence” or “out of sequence”. We report that, while the animals’ location and behavior remained constant, hippocampal activity differed depending on the temporal context of items—in this case, whether they were presented in or out of sequence. Some neurons showed this effect across items or sequence positions (general sequence cells), while others exhibited selectivity for specific conjunctions of item and sequence position information (conjunctive sequence cells) or for specific probe types (probe-specific sequence cells). We also found that the temporal context of individual trials could be accurately decoded from the activity of neuronal ensembles, that sequence coding at the single-cell and ensemble level was linked to sequence memory performance, and that slow-gamma oscillations (20–40 Hz) were more strongly modulated by temporal context and performance than theta oscillations (4–12 Hz). These findings provide compelling evidence that sequence coding extends beyond the domain of spatial trajectories and is thus a fundamental function of the hippocampus.



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Originally published in the Journal of Neuroscience.



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