Autonomic responses and efferent pathways from the insular cortex in the rat

J Comp Neurol. 1991 Jan 15;303(3):355-74. doi: 10.1002/cne.903030303.


The anatomical distribution of autonomic, particularly cardiovascular, responses originating in the insular cortex was examined by using systematic electrical microstimulation. The localization of these responses to cell bodies in the insular cortex was demonstrated by using microinjection of the excitatory amino acid, D,L-homocysteic acid. The efferents from the cardiovascular responsive sites were traced by iontophoretic injection of the anterograde axonal tracer Phaseoleus vulgaris leucoagglutinin (PHA-L). Two distinct patterns of cardiovascular response were elicited from the insular cortex: an increase in arterial pressure accompanied by tachycardia or a decrease in arterial pressure with bradycardia. The pressor responses were obtained by stimulation of the rostral half of the posterior insular cortex while depressor sites were located in the caudal part of the posterior insular area. Both types of site were primarily located in the dysgranular and agranular insular cortex. Gastric motility changes originated from a separate but adjacent region immediately rostral to the cardiovascular responsive sites in the anterior insular cortex. Tracing of efferents with PHA-L indicated a number of differences in connectivity between the pressor and depressor sites. Pressor sites had substantially more intense connections with other limbic regions including the infralimbic cortex, the amygdala, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and the medial dorsal and intralaminar nuclei of the thalamus. Alternatively, the depressor region of the insular cortex more heavily innervated sensory areas of the brain including layer I of the primary somatosensory cortex, a peripheral region of the sensory relay nuclei of the thalamus and the caudal spinal trigeminal nucleus. In addition, there were topographical differences in the projection to the lateral hypothalamic area, the primary site of autonomic outflow for these responses from the insular cortex. These differences in connectivity may provide the anatomic substrate for the specific cardiovascular responses and behaviors integrated in the insular cortex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cardiovascular System / innervation*
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Efferent Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Limbic System / anatomy & histology
  • Male
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Viscera / innervation


  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • leukoagglutinins, plants