Uncovering the role of the insula in non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease

Brain. 2014 Aug;137(Pt 8):2143-54. doi: 10.1093/brain/awu084. Epub 2014 Apr 15.


Patients with Parkinson's disease experience a range of non-motor symptoms, including cognitive impairment, behavioural changes, somatosensory and autonomic disturbances. The insula, which was once thought to be primarily a limbic cortical structure, is now known to be highly involved in integrating somatosensory, autonomic and cognitive-affective information to guide behaviour. Thus, it acts as a central hub for processing relevant information related to the state of the body as well as cognitive and mood states. Despite these crucial functions, the insula has been largely overlooked as a potential key region in contributing to non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The insula is affected in Parkinson's disease by alpha-synuclein deposition, disruptions in normal neurotransmitter function, alterations in connectivity as well as metabolic and structural changes. Although research focusing on the role of the insula in Parkinson's disease is scarce, there is evidence from neuroimaging studies linking the insula to cognitive decline, behavioural abnormalities and somatosensory disturbances. Here, we review imaging studies that provide insight into the potential role of the insula in Parkinson's disease non-motor symptoms.

Keywords: Parkinson’s disease; behaviour; cognition; insula; neuroimaging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Parkinson Disease / complications
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology*