The encoding of time and its binding to events are crucial for episodic memory, but how these processes are carried out in hippocampal–entorhinal circuits is unclear. Here we show in freely foraging rats that temporal information is robustly encoded across time scales from seconds to hours within the overall population state of the lateral entorhinal cortex. Similarly pronounced encoding of time was not present in the medial entorhinal cortex or in hippocampal areas CA3–CA1. When animals’ experiences were constrained by behavioural tasks to become similar across repeated trials, the encoding of temporal flow across trials was reduced, whereas the encoding of time relative to the start of trials was improved. The findings suggest that populations of lateral entorhinal cortex neurons represent time inherently through the encoding of experience. This representation of episodic time may be integrated with spatial inputs from the medial entorhinal cortex in the hippocampus, allowing the hippocampus to store a unified representation of what, where and when.
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