Recent interest in the role of the hippocampus in temporal aspects of cognition has been fueled, in part, by the observation of “time” cells in the rodent hippocampus—that is, cells that have differential firing patterns depending on how long ago an event occurred. Such cells are thought to provide an internal representation of elapsed time. Yet, the hippocampus is not needed for processing temporal duration information per se, at least on the order of seconds, as evidenced by intact duration judgments in rodents and humans with hippocampal damage. Rather, it has been proposed that the hippocampus may be essential for coding higher order aspects of temporal mnemonic processing, such as those needed to temporally organize a sequence of events that form an episode. To examine whether (1) the hippocampus uses duration information in the service of establishing temporal relations among events and (2) its role in memory for duration is unique to sequences, we tested amnesic patients with medial-temporal lobe damage (including the hippocampus). We hypothesized that medial-temporal lobe damage should impair the ability to remember sequential duration information but leave intact judgments about duration devoid of a sequential demand. We found that amnesics were impaired in making judgments about durations within a sequence but not in judging single durations. This impairment was not due to higher cognitive load associated with duration judgments about sequences. In convergence with rodent and human fMRI work, these findings shed light on how time coding in the hippocampus may contribute to temporal cognition.

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