The rostral agranular insular cortex (RAIC) has recently been identified as a site where local changes in GABA and dopamine levels, or application of opioids, can alter nociceptive thresholds in awake animals. The connections of the cortex dorsal to the rhinal fissure that includes the RAIC have been examined previously, with emphasis on visceral and gustatory functions but not nociception. Here we examined the afferent and efferent connections of the RAIC with sites implicated in nociceptive processing. Sensory information from the thalamus reaches the RAIC via the submedius and central lateral nuclei and the parvicellular part of the ventral posterior nucleus. The RAIC has extensive reciprocal cortico-cortical connections with the orbital, infralimbic, and anterior cingulate cortices and with the contralateral RAIC. The amygdala, particularly the basal complex, and the nucleus accumbens are important targets of RAIC efferent fibers. Other connections include projections to lateral hypothalamus, dorsal raphe, periaqueductal gray matter, pericerulear region, rostroventral medulla, and parabrachial nuclei. The connectivity of the RAIC suggests it is involved in multiple aspects of pain behavior. Projections to the RAIC from medial thalamic nuclei are associated with motivational/affective components of pain. RAIC projections to mesolimbic/mesocortical ventral forebrain circuits are likely to participate in the sensorimotor integration of nociceptive processing, while its brainstem projections are most likely to contribute to descending pain inhibitory control.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.