Although the primate insular cortex has been studied extensively, a comprehensive investigation of its neuronal morphology has yet to be completed. To that end, neurons from 20 human subjects (10 males and 10 females; N = 600) were selected from the secondary gyrus brevis, precentral gyrus, and postcentral gyrus of the left insula. The secondary gyrus brevis was generally more complex in terms of dendritic/spine extent than either the precentral or postcentral insular gyri, which is consistent with the posterior-anterior gradient of dendritic complexity observed in other cortical regions. The male insula had longer, spinier dendrites than the female insula, potentially reflecting sex differences in interoception. In comparing the current insular data with regional dendritic data quantified from other Brodmann's areas (BAs), insular total dendritic length (TDL) was less than the TDL of high integration cortices (BA6beta, 10, 11, 39), but greater than the TDL of low integration cortices (BA3-1-2, 4, 22, 44). Insular dendritic spine number was significantly greater than both low and high integration regions. Overall, the insula had spinier, but shorter neurons than did high integration cortices, and thus may represent a specialized type of heteromodal cortex, one that integrates crude multisensory information crucial to interoceptive processes.
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