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Recommended video: Lateral views of the brain [19:38]
Structures seen on the lateral view of the brain.

The word “insula” is the latin word for the “island”. What is the island of the human brain and what are its functions? Today the insula is considered a separate lobe of the human brain. Among all of the lobes, it seems that the insula is often marginalized. For that reason, it is considered to be very mystical among medical students because there is so little information about this structure.
For that reason, this specific article will clarify everything that you need to know about the anatomy and the function of the insular lobe.

Key facts about the insula
Opercula Three in total (frontal, parietal, temporal) formed by the portions of the lobes covering the insula
Gyri Short gyri: anterior, middle, posterior
Long gyri: anterior, posterior
Cytoarchitecture Central agranular, intermediate dysgranular, and outermost granular cortices
Connections Neocortex, basal ganglia, thalamus, limbic system
Functions Desires, cravings, and addiction
Neuropsychiatric disorders
  1. Anatomy
  2. Cytoarchitectonics
  3. Connections
  4. Functions
  5. Insular epilepsy
  6. Sources
+ Show all


The insular lobe is a part of the cerebral cortex located in both hemispheres. The insula forms the floor of the lateral sulcus, so in order to visualize it macroscopically, parts of the frontal, parietal and the temporal lobe must be removed. The portions of these lobes that cover the insula are therefore called the opercula (the plural of “operculum” which in latin means a little lid). When the opercula of the insula are removed, notable gyri and sulci can be seen.

Insular lobe (lateral-left view)

The insula is a lobe that has a triangular shape. It is surrounded by the anterior, superior and medial limiting sulci that are used to distinguish the three parts of the operculum:

  • The frontal operculum
  • The parietal operculum
  • The temporal operculum

When the insular operculum is opened, the first thing to be seen is the major central sulcus of the insula that divides it into an anterior and a posterior part.

The anterior part includes three short gyri:

  • The anterior short gyrus
  • The middle short gyrus
  • The posterior short gyrus

Additionally, on the ventral margin of the anterior part, the accessory gyrus is seen.

The posterior part includes two long gyri:

  • The anterior long gyrus
  • The posterior long gyrus

As we said at the beginning of this article, insula means island; and like every island, the insula has its own port. The port of the insula is called limen insula (latin name for the “port of the island”). The limen is the most anteroinferior part of the insular cortical surface. It forms the lateral limit of the anterior perforated substance and represents the level at the which the middle cerebral artery typically bifurcates/trifurcates.

You may be nearing mastery of the insula anatomy, but how's your knowledge of the other parts of the brain? Find out with our free diagrams and quizzes.


From an embryological perspective, the insular lobe is the structure between the neocortex and paleocortex. Three or more cytoarchitectonic cortical areas have been described in the insula, depending on the pattern of lamination. The insular cortex is categorized based on the degree of granularity into three portions:

  • Central agranular cortex
  • Intermediate dysgranular cortex
  • The outermost granular cortex

The level of granularity increases from the central region, that has no granular cells at all, through the intermediate that shows the presence of some granular cells, to the outermost cortex that has the fully developed granular layer.


The insula is connected with the following structures:

These findings disprove the theory that the insular lobe is an isolated island, but instead, they suggest that the insular lobe possesses multiple functions.


Functional neuroimaging studies have linked the insula to desires, cravings, and addiction. Also, it has been proved that the insula plays an important role in a wide range of psychiatric disorders, such are schizophrenia, mood, panic, post-traumatic stress and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

It is not difficult to see that the insular lobe cortex has wide connections with surrounding brain structures and is involved in many important activities of the central nervous system.

Take the following quiz to test your knowledge about the basic anatomy of the brain.

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