Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some neuroscientists have pegged an area of the brain known as the insula, which helps us detect what's going on within our bodies. But an unusual case of a man with extensive damage to this region suggests that the insula cannot be the sole source of self-awareness. Tucked deep inside the brain, the insula responds to pain, a full stomach, changes in body temperature, and other internal sensations. A research team led by SAHIB KHALSA and DAVID RUDRAUF of the University of Iowa studied the man's ability to detect visceral sensations, concluding that parallel pathways in the brain -- one involving the insula, the other involving the sense of touch -- mediate the ability to feel the heartbeat. A similar story appeared in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.