Insular function in autism: Update and future directions in neuroimaging and interventions

Jason S. Nomi, Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, Lucina Q. Uddin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The insular cortex, hidden within the lateral sulcus of the human brain, participates in a range of cognitive, affective, and sensory functions. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental condition affecting all of these functional domains, has increasingly been linked with atypical activation and connectivity of the insular cortices. Here we review the latest research linking atypical insular function to a range of behaviors characteristic of ASD, with an emphasis on neuroimaging findings in the domains of social cognition and executive function. We summarize some of the recent work linking the insula to interventions in autism, including oxytocin-based pharmacological treatments and music therapy. We suggest that future directions likely to yield significant insights into insular pathology in ASD include the analysis of the dynamics of this brain region. We also conclude that more basic research is necessary on the use of oxytocin pharmacotherapy, and larger studies addressing participant heterogeneity are needed on the use of music therapy in ASD. Long-term studies are needed to ascertain sustained effects of these interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-426
Number of pages15
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
StatePublished - Mar 8 2019


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Functional connectivity
  • Insula
  • Music therapy
  • Oxytocin
  • Structural connectivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Biological Psychiatry


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