Anterior insular cortex and emotional awareness

Authors

  • Xiaosi Gu,

    Corresponding author
    1. Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    2. Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, Roanoke, Virginia
    • Correspondence to: Xiaosi Gu, PhD, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, 12 Queen Square, London, United Kingdom WC1N 3BG. E-mail: xiaosi.gu@ucl.ac.uk

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  • Patrick R. Hof,

    1. Fishberg Department of Neuroscience, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
    2. Friedman Brain Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
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  • Karl J. Friston,

    1. Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, London, United Kingdom
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  • Jin Fan

    1. Fishberg Department of Neuroscience, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
    2. Friedman Brain Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
    3. Department of Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
    4. Department of Psychology, Queens College, The City University of New York, Flushing, New York
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  • The copyright line for this article was changed on April 9, 2015 after original online publication.

ABSTRACT

This paper reviews the foundation for a role of the human anterior insular cortex (AIC) in emotional awareness, defined as the conscious experience of emotions. We first introduce the neuroanatomical features of AIC and existing findings on emotional awareness. Using empathy, the awareness and understanding of other people's emotional states, as a test case, we then present evidence to demonstrate: 1) AIC and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) are commonly coactivated as revealed by a meta-analysis, 2) AIC is functionally dissociable from ACC, 3) AIC integrates stimulus-driven and top-down information, and 4) AIC is necessary for emotional awareness. We propose a model in which AIC serves two major functions: integrating bottom-up interoceptive signals with top-down predictions to generate a current awareness state and providing descending predictions to visceral systems that provide a point of reference for autonomic reflexes. We argue that AIC is critical and necessary for emotional awareness. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:3371-3388, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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