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Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008 Dec 1;178(11):1173-9. doi: 10.1164/rccm.200805-731OC. Epub 2008 Sep 5.

Reduced perception of dyspnea and pain after right insular cortex lesions.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Hamburg, Hamburg-Eppendor, Germany.



The perception of dyspnea and pain show many similarities. Initial imaging studies suggested an important role of the insular cortex for the perception of both sensations. However, little is known about the cortical processing of dyspnea.


This study investigated the influence of lesions of the insular cortex on the perception of dyspnea and pain.


Dyspnea was induced by resistive loaded breathing in four patients with right-hemispheric insular cortex lesions, as assessed with computer tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, and four matched healthy control subjects. Pain was induced by a cold-pressor test. Perceived intensity and unpleasantness of both sensations were rated on visual analog scales.


In contrast to healthy control subjects, patients with lesions demonstrated reduced perceptual sensitivity for dyspnea, in particular for the unpleasantness of dyspnea (P < 0.05). This was paralleled by reduced sensitivity for pain in patients with lesions, as reflected by smaller ratings of intensity and unpleasantness, higher sensory pain-thresholds, and, in particular, higher affect-related pain tolerance times (P < 0.05).


The results suggest that lesions of the right insular cortex are associated with reduced sensitivity for the perception of dyspnea and pain, in particular for their perceived unpleasantness. This underlines the importance of the insular cortex for the perception of both sensations.

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