Evidence for a Large-Scale Brain System Supporting Allostasis and Interoception in Humans

Nat Hum Behav. 2017;1:0069. doi: 10.1038/s41562-017-0069. Epub 2017 Apr 24.


Large-scale intrinsic brain systems have been identified for exteroceptive senses (e.g., sight, hearing, touch). We introduce an analogous system for representing sensations from within the body, called interoception, and demonstrate its relation to regulating peripheral systems in the body, called allostasis. Employing the recently introduced Embodied Predictive Interoception Coding (EPIC) model, we used tract-tracing studies of macaque monkeys, followed by two intrinsic functional magnetic resonance imaging samples (N = 280 and N = 270) to evaluate the existence of an intrinsic allostatic/interoceptive system in the human brain. Another sample (N = 41) allowed us to evaluate the convergent validity of the hypothesized allostatic/interoceptive system by showing that individuals with stronger connectivity between system hubs performed better on an implicit index of interoceptive ability related to autonomic fluctuations. Implications include insights for the brain's functional architecture, dissolving the artificial boundary between mind and body, and unifying mental and physical illness.