Differential structural and resting state connectivity between insular subdivisions and other pain-related brain regions.
Wiech K., Jbabdi S., Lin CS., Andersson J., Tracey I.
Functional neuroimaging studies suggest that the anterior, mid, and posterior division of the insula subserve different functions in the perception of pain. The anterior insula (AI) has predominantly been associated with cognitive-affective aspects of pain, while the mid and posterior divisions have been implicated in sensory-discriminative processing. We examined whether this functional segregation is paralleled by differences in (1) structural and (2) resting state connectivity and (3) in correlations with pain-relevant psychological traits. Analyses were restricted to the 3 insular subdivisions and other pain-related brain regions. Both type of analyses revealed largely overlapping results. The AI division was predominantly connected to the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (structural and resting state connectivity) and orbitofrontal cortex (structural connectivity). In contrast, the posterior insula showed strong connections to the primary somatosensory cortex (SI; structural connectivity) and secondary somatosensory cortex (SII; structural and resting state connectivity). The mid insula displayed a hybrid connectivity pattern with strong connections with the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, SII (structural and resting state connectivity) and SI (structural connectivity). Moreover, resting state connectivity revealed strong connectivity of all 3 subdivisions with the thalamus. On the behavioural level, AI structural connectivity was related to the individual degree of pain vigilance and awareness that showed a positive correlation with AI-amygdala connectivity and a negative correlation with AI-rostral anterior cingulate cortex connectivity. In sum, our findings show a differential structural and resting state connectivity for the anterior, mid, and posterior insula with other pain-relevant brain regions, which might at least partly explain their different functional profiles in pain processing.