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The Insular Cortex: An Interface Between Sensation, Emotion and Cognition

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Abstract

The insula is a complex brain region central to the orchestration of taste perception, interoception, emotion, and decision-making. Recent research has shed light on the intricate connections between the insula and other brain regions, revealing the crucial role of this area in integrating sensory, emotional, and cognitive information. The unique anatomical position and extensive connectivity allow the insula to serve as a critical hub in the functional network of the brain. We summarize its role in interoceptive and exteroceptive sensory processing, illustrating insular function as a bridge connecting internal and external experiences. Drawing on recent research, we delineate the insular involvement in emotional processes, highlighting its implications in psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. We further discuss the insular contributions to cognition, focusing on its significant roles in time perception and decision-making. Collectively, the evidence underscores the insular function as a dynamic interface that synthesizes diverse inputs into coherent subjective experiences and decision-making processes. Through this review, we hope to highlight the importance of the insula as an interface between sensation, emotion, and cognition, and to inspire further research into this fascinating brain region.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Xiaofei Wang and Xu Chen (the Big Data Platform of Brain Atlas at the CEBSIT) for analyzing single-neuron insular projection data. This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (32371060 and 32271065), the Lingang Laboratory (LG-QS-202203-06 and LG-QS-202203-02), the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Benyuan Charity Foundation.

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Zhang, R., Deng, H. & Xiao, X. The Insular Cortex: An Interface Between Sensation, Emotion and Cognition. Neurosci. Bull. (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12264-024-01211-4

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