The brain and body are in continuous dialog. Brain-body communication requires interoception, the perception of internal bodily signals. This involves sensing of various signals relating to heart rate, blood sugar levels, temperature, inflammation, and more. In other words, “How do I feel?”
Insular cortex (or 'insula') is the main cortical site that integrates external cues with diverse bodily signals. We seek to understand brain-body communication, and its role in regulating diverse behaviors, by focusing on insular cortex as a central node in the brain-body loop. Our research focuses on global physiological need states such as hunger and thirst, as well as on more specific signals such as nutrient sensing.
We use cellular and sub-cellular two-photon imaging, together with circuit-mapping, circuit manipulation and computational approaches. We combine these approaches with measurements and manipulations of bodily physiology, in the context of goal-directed behaviors.
Major questions we ask:
1. How are different physiological need states represented? How do we prioritize certain behaviors over others?
2. How are different internal sensations organized? How are these representations used to guide behavioral choice?
3, What is the role of the interoceptive cortex? How are cortical estimations of current events, and predictions of future events, used to regulate bodily function?
Two-photon imaging of insular cortex activity:
Two-photon imaging of amygdala axons in insular cortex: