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How do you feel? Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body

Abstract

As humans, we perceive feelings from our bodies that relate our state of well-being, our energy and stress levels, our mood and disposition. How do we have these feelings? What neural processes do they represent? Recent functional anatomical work has detailed an afferent neural system in primates and in humans that represents all aspects of the physiological condition of the physical body. This system constitutes a representation of 'the material me', and might provide a foundation for subjective feelings, emotion and self-awareness.

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Figure 1: Pain, visceroceptive and spinothalamocortical pathways.
Figure 2: Hierarchical organization of neural homeostasis involving the sympathetic nervous system.
Figure 3: The organizational chart for interoception.
Figure 4: Activation of the interoceptive cortex in the dorsal posterior insula by various modalities.
Figure 5: Activation of the right (non-dominant) anterior insular cortex associated with different subjective feelings.

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Acknowledgements

I thank E. Rolls and L. Watkins for their comments on the manuscript, and many collaborators and friends for constructive discussions. Work in the author's laboratory is supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Barrow Neurological Foundation.

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FURTHER INFORMATION

Encyclopedia of Life Sciences

sensory system organization

sensory systems in vertebrates: general overview

somatosensory systems

MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Sciences

emotion and the human brain

Glossary

AIR HUNGER

Hypercapnia with mechanically restricted ventilation.

ERGORECEPTION

Afferent activity relating tissue energy and metabolic needs.

EXERCISE PRESSOR REFLEX

Increased blood pressure and heart rate caused by activity in small-diameter afferents from muscle.

FIRST PAIN

Sharp, pricking pain associated with rapidly conducting Aδ-fibres.

LABELLED LINES

Anatomically and physiologically distinct neurons that are specifically associated with particular sensations.

NEUROPATHIC PAIN

Intractable pain associated with damage to the peripheral or central nervous system.

SECOND PAIN

Dull, burning pain associated with slowly conducting C-fibres.

TRIADIC ARRANGEMENT

Ultrastructural contacts between an afferent terminal, a relay cell dendrite and a GABA-containing presynaptic dendrite that is characteristic of high-fidelity transmission in sensory relay nuclei.

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Craig, A. How do you feel? Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Nat Rev Neurosci 3, 655–666 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn894

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