Differential responses of the insular cortex gyri to autonomic challenges

Auton Neurosci. 2012 May 21;168(1-2):72-81. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2012.01.009. Epub 2012 Feb 17.


Determining insular functional topography is essential for assessing autonomic consequences of neural injury. We examined that topography in the five major insular cortex gyri to three autonomic challenges, the Valsalva, hand grip, and foot cold pressor, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) procedures. Fifty-seven healthy subjects (age ± std: 47 ± 9 years) performed four 18 s Valsalva maneuvers (30 mm Hg load pressure), four hand grip challenges (16 s at 80% effort), and a foot cold pressor (60 s, 4°C), with fMRI scans recorded every 2 s. Signal trends were compared across gyri using repeated measures ANOVA. Significantly (P<0.05) higher signals in left anterior versus posterior gyri appeared during Valsalva strain, and in the first 4 s of recovery. The right anterior gyri showed sustained higher signals up to 2 s post-challenge, relative to posterior gyri, with sub-gyral differentiation. Left anterior gyri signals were higher than posterior areas during the hand grip challenge. All right anterior gyri showed increased signals over posterior up to 12 s post-challenge, with decline in the most-anterior gyrus from 10 to 24 s during recovery. The left three anterior gyri showed relatively lower signals only during the 90 s recovery of the cold pressor, while the two most-anterior right gyri signals increased only during the stimulus. More-differentiated representation of autonomic signals appear in the anterior right insula for the Valsalva maneuver, a bilateral, more-posterior signal representation for hand grip, and preferentially right-sided, anterior-posterior representation for the cold pressor. The functional organization of the insular cortex is gyri-specific to unique autonomic challenges.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Female
  • Hand Strength / physiology
  • Heart Function Tests
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Pressure
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Valsalva Maneuver