Somatic response properties were determined for over 1,300 neurons isolated within and near the lateral sulci of unanesthetized and unparalyzed cynomolgus monkeys. Somatic stimuli unequivocally activated the majority of units studied in SII (93%) and in cortical fields surrounding SII: area 7b (65%), the retroinsular field (74%), and the granular insula (76%).
No activation other than somatic was seen for SII neurons, and noxious somatic stimulation was rarely required. The SII units almost always responded in a rapidly adapting manner to hair or skin stimulation, but not both; however, the submodality distribution seen in SII varied as a function of peripheral receptor locations. Two small zones within SII contained neurons that responded only if the animal actively interacted with the stimulus.
In contrast, one-half of the sample of neurons from area 7b unequivocally responded only to somatic stimulation. Although many neurons in the lateral parts of area 7b were vigorously activated by innocuous tactile stimulation, others demonstrated little association with an identifiable somatic submodality, had sluggish responses, required complex, noxious, visual or other non-somatic stimuli for activation, and had labile response properties and receptive fields. Indeed, the responses of some area 7b neurons suggested a possible relationship with the animal's attention towards or anticipation of a noxious or a novel somatic stimulus. Neurons within the retroinsular cortex (Ri), which receives projections from the posterior nucleus (PO), primarily responded to light tactile stimulation of rapidly adapting skin receptors; less than 3% responded to moderate or high threshold mechanical stimulation. The sensitivity to tactile stimulation in Ri closely resembled the responses of SII neurons. Neurons in the granular insula (Ig) often responded to gentle hair deflection within receptive fields covering large areas of the body. Ig and area 7b were the principle loci within the lateral sulcus that contained neurons responding to noxious stimulation.
Owing to the great similarity in the somatic response properties within these areas in the awake and unparalyzed animal, the designation of cortical areas could only be made after correlating the recording sites with connectional and cytoarchitectonic analyses in the same animal. Consequently, previous physiological studies may have attributed to SII some of the response characteristics of neurons in neighboring areas.