The insular cortex and cardiovascular system: a new insight into the brain-heart axis.

Research paper by Michiaki M Nagai, Satoshi S Hoshide, Kazuomi K Kario

Indexed on: 27 Jul '10Published on: 27 Jul '10Published in: Journal of the American Society of Hypertension


The classical literature on neurocardiology has focused mainly on the subcortical regions of the central autonomic nervous system. However, recent studies have supported the notion that the cardiovascular system is regulated by cortical modulation. Modern neuroimaging data, including positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging, have revealed that a network consisting of the insular cortex, anterior cingulate gyrus, and amygdala plays a crucial role in the regulation of central autonomic nervous system. Because the insular cortex is located in the region of the middle cerebral arteries, its structure tends to be exposed to a higher risk of cerebrovascular disease. The insular cortex damage has been associated with arrhythmia, diurnal blood pressure variation disruption (eg, a non-dipper or riser pattern), myocardial injury, and sleep disordered breathing, as well as higher plasma levels of brain natriuretic peptide, catecholamine, and glucose. This review article focuses on the role of the insular cortex as a mediator for the cardiovascular system and summarizes current knowledge on the relationships between cerebrovascular disease and cardiovascular system dysregulation. Finally, a hypothesis of the neural network involved in cortical cardiovascular modulation, including modulation of the insular cortex, is provided.