1. The insular cortex has been implicated as a region of cortical cardiovascular control, yet its role during exercise remains undefined. The purpose of the present investigation was to determine whether the insular cortex was activated during volitional dynamic exercise and to evaluate further its role as a site for regulation of autonomic activity. 2. Eight subjects were studied during voluntary active cycling and passively induced cycling. Additionally, four of the subjects underwent passive movement combined with electrical stimulation of the legs. 3. Increases in regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) distribution were determined for each individual using single-photon emission-computed tomography (SPECT) co-registered with magnetic resonance (MR) images to define exact anatomical sites of cerebral activation during each condition. 4. The rCBF significantly increased in the left insula during active, but not passive cycling. There were no significant changes in rCBF for the right insula. Also, the magnitude of rCBF increase for leg primary motor areas was significantly greater for both active cycling and passive cycling combined with electrical stimulation compared with passive cycling alone. These findings provide the first evidence of insular activation during dynamic exercise in humans, suggesting that the left insular cortex may serve as a site for cortical regulation of cardiac autonomic (parasympathetic) activity. Additionally, findings during passive cycling with electrical stimulation support the role of leg muscle afferent input towards the full activation of leg motor areas.
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