The organization of the subcortical and cortical connections of the rat agranular insular cortex was examined. Retrogradely transported dyes were used to map the agranular insular cortex efferents to brainstem visceral nuclei (the nucleus of the solitary tract and the parabrachial nucleus), to gustatory-visceral and limbic thalamic nuclei (medial ventrobasal and mediodorsal thalamus, respectively), and to association cortex (medial prefrontal and contralateral agranular insular cortex). The results revealed that a specific area within the ipsilateral agranular insular cortex projected to all of the subcortical and cortical areas listed above. This area of overlap in the agranular insular cortex stretched from the level of the genu of the corpus callosum rostrally to the crossing of the anterior commissure caudally.
Anterograde projections from the medial ventrobasal and mediodorsal thalamus and from the olfactory bulb to the agranular insular cortex were mapped with wheat germ agglutinin conjugated to horseradish peroxidase. The terminal cortical projections from these areas were generally separate, except in an area where they overlap immediately medial to the rhinal fissure in the agranular insular cortex. This overlap area matched the area in the agranular insular cortex where there was an overlap of cortical efferent cells projecting to the brainstem, thalamus, and association cortex, as revealed in the retrograde tracing studies. We refer to this region of convergence in the agranular insular cortex as the visceral cortex, and suggest its involvement in the efficient integration of specific visceral sensory stimuli with correlated limbic or motivational consequences. The visceral cortex may help regulate the organism's visceral response to stress.