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Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Aug 23;7:499. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00499. eCollection 2013.

Food related processes in the insular cortex.

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1Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen Tübingen, Germany ; 2fMEG Center, University of Tübingen Tübingen, Germany.


The insular cortex is a multimodal brain region with regional cytoarchitectonic differences indicating various functional specializations. As a multisensory neural node, the insular cortex integrates perception, emotion, interoceptive awareness, cognition, and gustation. Regarding the latter, predominantly the anterior part of the insular cortex is regarded as the primary taste cortex. In this review, we will specifically focus on the involvement of the insula in food processing and on multimodal integration of food-related items. Influencing factors of insular activation elicited by various foods range from calorie-content to the internal physiologic state, body mass index or eating behavior. Sensory perception of food-related stimuli including seeing, smelling, and tasting elicits increased activation in the anterior and mid-dorsal part of the insular cortex. Apart from the pure sensory gustatory processing, there is also a strong association with the rewarding/hedonic aspects of food items, which is reflected in higher insular activity and stronger connections to other reward-related areas. Interestingly, the processing of food items has been found to elicit different insular activation in lean compared to obese subjects and in patients suffering from an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN)). The knowledge of functional differences in the insular cortex opens up the opportunity for possible noninvasive treatment approaches for obesity and eating disorders. To target brain functions directly, real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback offers a state-of-the-art tool to learn to control the anterior insular cortex activity voluntarily. First evidence indicates that obese adults have an enhanced ability to regulate the anterior insular cortex.


eating disorders; food; gustatory; insular cortex; neurofeedback; obesity; weight loss

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