, Volume 214, Issue 5-6, pp 477-493
Date: 29 May 2010

The insular cortex: a comparative perspective

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The human insular cortex is involved in a variety of viscerosensory, visceromotor, and interoceptive functions, and plays a role in complex processes such as emotions, music, and language. Across mammals, the insula has considerable morphologic variability. We review the structure and connectivity of the insula in laboratory animals (mouse, domestic cat, macaque monkey), and we present original data on the morphology and cytoarchitecture of insular cortex in less common species including a large carnivore (the Atlantic walrus, Odobenus rosmarus), two artiodactyls (the pigmy hippopotamus, Hexaprotodon liberiensis, and the Western bongo, Tragelaphus eurycerus), two cetaceans (the beluga whale, Delphinapterus leucas, and the minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata), and a sirenian (the Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris). The insula shows substantial variability in shape, extent, and gyral and sulcal patterns, as well as differences in laminar organization, cellular specialization, and structural association with the claustrum. Our observations reveal that the insular cortex is extremely variable among mammals. These differences could be related to the role exerted by specific and selective pressures on cortical structure during evolution. We conclude that it is not possible to identify a general model of organization for the mammalian insular cortex.