Decoding the role of the insula in human cognition: functional parcellation and large-scale reverse inference

Cereb Cortex. 2013 Mar;23(3):739-49. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs065. Epub 2012 Mar 20.


Recent work has indicated that the insula may be involved in goal-directed cognition, switching between networks, and the conscious awareness of affect and somatosensation. However, these findings have been limited by the insula's remarkably high base rate of activation and considerable functional heterogeneity. The present study used a relatively unbiased data-driven approach combining resting-state connectivity-based parcellation of the insula with large-scale meta-analysis to understand how the insula is anatomically organized based on functional connectivity patterns as well as the consistency and specificity of the associated cognitive functions. Our findings support a tripartite subdivision of the insula and reveal that the patterns of functional connectivity in the resting-state analysis appear to be relatively conserved across tasks in the meta-analytic coactivation analysis. The function of the networks was meta-analytically "decoded" using the Neurosynth framework and revealed that while the dorsoanterior insula is more consistently involved in human cognition than ventroanterior and posterior networks, each parcellated network is specifically associated with a distinct function. Collectively, this work suggests that the insula is instrumental in integrating disparate functional systems involved in processing affect, sensory-motor processing, and general cognition and is well suited to provide an interface between feelings, cognition, and action.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Young Adult