The meaning we derive from our experiences is not a simple static extraction of the elements but is largely based on the order in which those elements occur. Models propose that sequence encoding is supported by interactions between high- and low-frequency oscillations, such that elements within an experience are represented by neural cell assemblies firing at higher frequencies (gamma) and sequential order is encoded by the specific timing of firing with respect to a lower frequency oscillation (theta). During episodic sequence memory formation in humans, we provide evidence that items in different sequence positions exhibit greater gamma power along distinct phases of a theta oscillation. Furthermore, this segregation is related to successful temporal order memory. Our results provide compelling evidence that memory for order, a core component of an episodic memory, capitalizes on the ubiquitous physiological mechanism of theta-gamma phase-amplitude coupling.
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