Significance of the insula for the evolution of human awareness of feelings from the body


Address for correspondence: Dr. A. D. (Bud) Craig, Atkinson Research Laboratory, Barrow Neurological Institute, 350 West Thomas Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85013.


An ascending sensory pathway that underlies feelings from the body, such as cooling or toothache, terminates in the posterior insula. Considerable evidence suggests that this activity is rerepresented and integrated first in the mid-insula and then in the anterior insula. Activation in the anterior insula correlates directly with subjective feelings from the body and, strikingly, with all emotional feelings. These findings appear to signify a posterior-to-anterior sequence of increasingly homeostatically efficient representations that integrate all salient neural activity, culminating in network nodes in the right and left anterior insulae that may be organized asymmetrically in an opponent fashion. The anterior insula has appropriate characteristics to support the proposal that it engenders a cinemascopic model of human awareness and subjectivity. This review presents the author's views regarding the principles of organization of this system and discusses a possible sequence for its evolution, as well as particular issues of historical interest.