Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 214, Issue 5–6, pp 419–433 | Cite as

The contribution(s) of the insula to speech production: a review of the clinical and functional imaging literature



Skilled spoken language production requires fast and accurate coordination of up to 100 muscles. A long-standing concept—tracing ultimately back to Paul Broca—assumes posterior parts of the inferior frontal gyrus to support the orchestration of the respective movement sequences prior to innervation of the vocal tract. At variance with this tradition, the insula has more recently been declared the relevant “region for coordinating speech articulation”, based upon clinico-neuroradiological correlation studies. However, these findings have been criticized on methodological grounds. A survey of the clinical literature (cerebrovascular disorders, brain tumours, stimulation mapping) yields a still inconclusive picture. By contrast, functional imaging studies report more consistently hemodynamic insular responses in association with motor aspects of spoken language. Most noteworthy, a relatively small area at the junction of insular and opercular cortex was found sensitive to the phonetic-linguistic structure of verbal utterances, a strong argument for its engagement in articulatory control processes. Nevertheless, intrasylvian hemodynamic activation does not appear restricted to articulatory processes and might also be engaged in the adjustment of the autonomic system to ventilatory needs during speech production: Whereas the posterior insula could be involved in the cortical representation of respiration-related metabolic (interoceptive) states, the more rostral components, acting upon autonomic functions, might serve as a corollary pathway to “voluntary control of breathing” bound to corticospinal and -bulbar fiber tracts. For example, the insula could participate in the implementation of task-specific autonomic settings such as the maintenance of a state of relative hyperventilation during speech production.


Insula Speech motor control Articulation Speech breathing Respiration 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of General Neurology, Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain ResearchUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Neurology, Medical CenterUniversity of UlmUlmGermany

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