Anterior insular cortex anticipates impending stimulus significance

Neuroimage. 2009 Apr 15;45(3):976-83. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.12.070.


Touch is a fundamental, but complex, element of everyday interaction that impacts one's sensory and affective experience via interoceptive processing. The insular cortex is an integral component of the neural processes involved in interoception, i.e. the generation of an "emotional moment in time" through the sensing of the internal body state (Craig, A.D., 2002. How do you feel? Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Nat. Rev. Neurosci 3, 655-666.). Here, we examine the contribution of different parts of the insular cortex in the representation of both affective and sensory aspects of touch. To that end, subjects were administered a cued application of touch during functional MRI. We find that stimulus-related activation occurs in the mid-to-posterior insula, whereas anticipatory related activation is seen mostly in anterior insula. Moreover, the degree of activation in anterior insula during anticipation is correlated with the degree of activation in the posterior insula and caudate during stimulus processing. Finally, the degree of activation in the anterior insula during anticipation is also correlated with experienced intensity of the touch. Taken together, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that the anterior insula is preparing for the sensory and affective impact of touch. This preparatory function has important implications for the understanding of both anxiety and addictive disorders because dysfunctions in anticipatory processing are a fundamental part of the psychopathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Touch / physiology*