Meta-analytic clustering of the insular cortex: characterizing the meta-analytic connectivity of the insula when involved in active tasks

Neuroimage. 2012 Aug 1;62(1):343-55. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.04.012. Epub 2012 Apr 14.


The human insula has been parcellated on the basis of resting state functional connectivity and diffusion tensor imaging. Little is known about the organization of the insula when involved in active tasks. We explored this issue using a novel meta-analytic clustering approach. We queried the BrainMap database asking for papers involving normal subjects that recorded activations in the insular cortex, retrieving 1305 papers, involving 22,872 subjects and a total of 2957 foci. Data were analyzed with several different methodologies, some of which expressly designed for this work. We used meta-analytic connectivity modeling and meta-analytic clustering of data obtained from the BrainMap database. We performed cluster analysis to subdivide the insula in areas with homogeneous connectivity, and density analysis of the activated foci using Voronoi tessellation. Our results confirm and extend previous findings obtained investigating the resting state connectivity of the anterior-posterior and left-right insulae. They indicate, for the first time, that some blocks of the anterior insula play the role of hubs between the anterior and the posterior insulae, as confirmed by their activation in several different paradigms. This finding supports the view that the network to which the anterior insula belongs is related to saliency detection. The insulae of both sides can be parcellated in two clusters, the anterior and the posterior: the anterior is characterized by an attentional pattern of connectivity with frontal, cingulate, parietal, cerebellar and anterior insular highly connected areas, whereas the posterior is characterized by a more local connectivity pattern with connections to sensorimotor, temporal and posterior cingulate areas. This antero-posterior subdivision, better characterized on the right side, results sharper with the connectivity based clusterization than with the behavioral based clusterization. The circuits belonging to the anterior insula are very homogeneous and their blocks in multidimensional scaling of MACM-based profiles are in central position, whereas those belonging to the posterior insula, especially on the left, are located at the periphery and sparse, thus suggesting that the posterior circuits bear a more heterogeneous connectivity. The anterior cluster is mostly activated by cognition, whereas the posterior is mostly activated by interoception, perception and emotion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Models, Anatomic*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology