The idea of a 'pain matrix' specifically devoted to the processing of nociceptive inputs has been challenged. Alternative views now propose that the activity of the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices (SI, SII), the insula and cingulate cortex may be related to a basic defensive system through which significant potentially dangerous events for the body's integrity are detected. By reviewing the role of the SI, SII, the cingulate and the insular cortices in the perception of nociceptive and tactile stimuli, in attentional, emotional and reward tasks, and in interoception and memory, we found that all these task-related networks overlap in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the anterior insula and the dorsal medial thalamus. A thorough analysis revealed that the 'pain-related' network shares important functional similarities with both somatomotor-somatosensory networks and emotional-interoceptive ones. We suggest that these shared areas constitute the central part of an adaptive control system involved in the processing and integration of salient information coming both from external and internal sources. These areas are activated in almost all fMRI tasks and have been indicated to play a pivotal role in switching between externally directed and internally directed brain networks.