Neural mechanisms of autonomic, affective, and cognitive integration

J Comp Neurol. 2005 Dec 5;493(1):154-66. doi: 10.1002/cne.20749.


Influential theoretical models propose a central role for afferent information from the body in the expression of emotional feeling states. Feedback representations of changing states of bodily arousal influence learning and facilitate concurrent and prospective decision-making. Functional neuroimaging studies have increased understanding of brain mechanisms that generate changes in autonomic arousal during behavior and those which respond to internal feedback signals to influence subjective feeling states. In particular, anterior cingulate cortex is implicated in generating autonomic changes, while insula and orbitofrontal cortices may be specialized in mapping visceral responses. Independently, ventromedial prefrontal cortex is recognized to support processes of internal (self-) reference that predominate in states of rest and disengagement and which putatively serve as a benchmark for dynamic interactions with the environment. Lesion data further highlight the integrated role of these cortical regions in autonomic and motivational control. In computational models of control, forward (efference copies) and inverse models are proposed to enable prediction and correction of action and, by extension, the interpretation of the behavior of others. It is hypothesized that the neural substrate for these processes during motivational and affective behavior lies within the interactions of anterior cingulate, insula, and orbitofrontal cortices. Generation of visceral autonomic correlates of control reinforce experiential engagement in simulatory models and underpin concepts such as somatic markers to bridge the dualistic divide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Efferent Pathways / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Neurological
  • Mood Disorders / physiopathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests