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Processing of affective and emotionally neutral tactile stimuli in the insular cortex

Journal article
Authors Monika Davidovic
Göran Starck
Håkan Olausson
Published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Volume 35
Pages 94-103
ISSN 1878-9293
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Clinical Sciences, Department of Radiation Physics
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Pages 94-103
Language en
Keywords Touch, fMRI, Insula, Resting state networks, touch, afferents, pleasantness, interoception, connectivity, trajectories, organization, responses, system, fmri
Subject categories Neurosciences


The insula is important for the processing of pleasant aspects of touch whereas its role in the processing of emotionally neutral touch has been less explored. Here, we used a network approach to investigate the insular processing of pleasant stroking touch and emotionally neutral vibratory touch, analysing functional magnetic resonance imaging data from 23 healthy adult participants. Vibration and skin stroking activated areas in the posterior, middle and anterior insula. Psychophysiological interaction analyses suggested that skin stroking increased functional connectivity between the posterior and ventral anterior insula. Vibration instead increased functional connectivity between the posterior and dorsal anterior insula, and induced a stronger decrease of the default mode network activity compared to stroking. These results confirmed findings from previous studies showing that the posterior insula processes affective touch information. We suggest that this is accomplished by relaying tactile information from the posterior insula to ventral anterior insula, an area tightly connected to the emotional parts of the brain. However, our results also suggested that the insula processes tactile information with less emotional valence. A central hub in this processing seemed to be the right dorsal anterior insula.

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