Human hippocampal neurons track moments in a sequence of events

Leila Reddy*, Benedikt Zoefel, Jessy K Possel, Judith C. Peters, Doris Dijksterhuis, Marlene Poncet, Elisabeth C W van Straaten, Johannes C Baayen, Sander Idema, Matthew W Self

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


An indispensable feature of episodic memory is our ability to temporally piece together different elements of an experience into a coherent memory. Hippocampal time cells-neurons that represent temporal information-may play a critical role in this process. Although these cells have been repeatedly found in rodents, it is still unclear to what extent similar temporal selectivity exists in the human hippocampus. Here, we show that temporal context modulates the firing activity of human hippocampal neurons during structured temporal experiences. We recorded neuronal activity in the human brain while patients of either sex learned predictable sequences of pictures. We report that human time cells fire at successive moments in this task. Furthermore, time cells also signaled inherently changing temporal contexts during empty 10 s gap periods between trials while participants waited for the task to resume. Finally, population activity allowed for decoding temporal epoch identity, both during sequence learning and during the gap periods. These findings suggest that human hippocampal neurons could play an essential role in temporally organizing distinct moments of an experience in episodic memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6714-6725
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number31
Early online date21 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 4 Aug 2021


  • human electrophysiology
  • human hippocampus
  • sequence learning
  • temporal coding
  • time cells

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