The insulae are believed to be involved in consciousness and play a role in diverse functions usually linked to emotion or the regulation of the body's homeostasis. These functions include compassion and empathy, perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning, and interpersonal experience. In relation to these, it is involved in psychopathology.
The insular cortex is divided into two parts: the larger anterior insula and the smaller posterior insula in which more than a dozen field areas have been identified. The cortical area overlying the insula toward the lateral surface of the brain is the operculum (meaning lid). The opercula are formed from parts of the enclosing frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes.
The anterior part of the insula is subdivided by shallow sulci into three or four short gyri.
The anterior insula receives a direct projection from the basal part of the ventral medial nucleus of the thalamus and a particularly large input from the central nucleus of the amygdala. In addition, the anterior insula itself projects to the amygdala.
One study on rhesus monkeys revealed widespread reciprocal connections between the insular cortex and almost all subnuclei of the amygdaloid complex. The posterior insula projects predominantly to the dorsal aspect of the lateral and to the central amygdaloid nuclei. In contrast, the anterior insula projects to the anterior amygdaloid area as well as the medial, the cortical, the accessory basal magnocellular, the medial basal, and the lateral amygdaloid nuclei.