One of the defining features of episodic long-term memory is that it includes information about the temporal context in which an event occurred. Little is known about the regions that support the encoding of temporal information in the human brain, although previous work has suggested a role for the lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) and medial temporal lobes (MTL). Here we used event-related fMRI to examine the relationship between activity at encoding and subsequent memory for temporal context. Participants were scanned while performing a serial order working memory task with pictures of common objects and were later tested for temporal memory at two different timescales. In the coarse temporal memory test, participants viewed one object from each trial and indicated approximately when during the course of the experiment it had appeared. In the fine temporal memory test, participants were shown the remaining objects from each trial and asked to recall the order in which they had been originally presented. Activity in the parahippocampal cortex predicted subsequent fine temporal accuracy, whereas coarse temporal accuracy was predicted by activity in several regions of the PFC, as well as in the hippocampus. Additional multivoxel pattern analyses revealed evidence implicating the rostrolateral PFC in the representation of time-varying contextual states in a manner similar to that proposed by computational theories of temporal context memory. These results highlight MTL and PFC contributions to temporal memory at the time of encoding and suggest a particular role for the rostrolateral PFC in encoding coarse temporal context.
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