Convergence of autonomic and limbic connections in the insular cortex of the rat


  • Clifford B. Saper

    1. Department of Neurology, New York Hospital—Cornell University Medical Center, New York, New York 10021
    2. Departments of Neurology and Neurological Surgery (Neurology), and Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Neurology, Washington University School of Medicine, 660 South Euclid Ave., Box 8111, St. Louis, MO 63110
    Search for more papers by this author


The connnections of the insular cortex in the rate were studied by using the anterograde and retrograde transport of wheat germ agglutinin-conjugated-horseradish peroxidase. Both anterograde and retrogrde transport were seen in the ipsilateral lateral frontal, infralimbic, piriform, and perirhinal cortical areas and in the contralateral insular cortex. In the thalaamus, both types of labeling were seen in the mediodorsal and ventroposteromedial parvocellular nuclei; primarily retrograde labeling was seen in the centromedial and paracentral nuclei. In the basal forebrain, anterograde labeling was seen in the lateralpart of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and in the central nucleus of the amygdala, while retrogradely labeled neurons were found in the magnocellular basal nucleus and in the lateral and basolateral amygdaloid nuclei. Both types of labeling were seen in the posterior lateral hypothalamic area; the tuberomammillary nucleus contained retrogradely labeled neurons bilaterally. In the midbrain, retrogradely labeled neurons were found in the ventral tegmental area and in the dorsal and superior central raphe nuclei. In the pons, both retrogradely and anterogradely transported label was seen bilaterally in the parabrachial nucleus, primarily in the ventromedial caudal part of the medial subnucleus. Retrogradely labeled neurons were found bilaterally in the locus coeruleus. Anterograde transport was followed into the medulla, bilaterally but more heavily in the contralateral side. Labeled axons appeared to terminate in a topographic pattern in the nucleus of the solitary tract.

These results indicate that the insular cortex of the rat is an important part of the highly interconnected central autonomic system. Furthermore, the autonomic representation in the insular cortex may be organized in a viscerotopic manner. The insular cortex also has connections with the limbic system and with the lateral frontal cortical system. Although it is not yet clear whether these connections converge upon the same neurons within the insular cortex, earlier physiological data suggest that each of the diverse systems of connections of this area receives relayed vagal inputs. The insular cortex of the rat may contain a primary cortical visceral representation, and its connections may underlie autonomic integration with behavioral and emotional events.