[Epilepsy and insula]

M Guenot, J Isnard
Neuro-Chirurgie 2008, 54 (3): 374-81
The insula is the only cortical part of the brain that is not visible on the surface of the hemisphere, because it is totally covered by the frontoparietal and temporal opercula. The insula is triangular in shape and is separated from the opercula by the anterior, superior, and inferior peri-insular sulci. It is morphologically divided into two parts by the central insular sulcus. The anterior part of the insula bears three short gyri, and its posterior part contains two long gyri. The vascular supply of the insula is mainly provided by the M2 segment of the middle cerebral artery, a substantial obstacle to any open or stereotactic procedure aiming at the insular region. The insula is functionally involved in cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure control, as well as in visceromotor control and in viscerosensitive functions. There is substantial evidence that the insula is involved as a somesthetic area, including a major role in the processing of nociceptive input. The role of the insula in some epilepsies was recently investigated by means of depth electrode recordings made following Talairach's stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) methodology. It appears that ictal signs associated with an insular discharge are very similar to those usually attributed to mesial temporal lobe seizures. Ictal symptoms associated with insular discharges are mainly made up of respiratory, viscerosensitive (chest or abdominal constriction), or oroalimentary (chewing or swallowing) manifestations. Unpleasant somatosensory manifestations, always opposite the discharging side, are also frequent. Ictal signs arising from the insula occur in full consciousness; these are always simple partial seizures. Seizures arising from the temporal lobe always invade the insular region, but in approximately 10% of cases, the seizures originate in the insular cortex itself. These data explain that there has been a rebirth of interest in the insula from a surgical perspective over the past few years. The literature contains no reports of cases of resection of insular cortex alone; most insular resections are performed in the context of temporal resection, when there is some evidence of seizures originating in the insula itself. Such procedures are risky and their efficacy, in terms of postoperative surgical outcome, has not yet been clearly assessed. In this context, less invasive procedures, such as SEEG-guided radiofrequency thermolesions of the insular cortex, are under investigation.

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