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12 cranial nerves: want to learn more about it?

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12 cranial nerves

Facial nerve (lateral right view)

You know when someone mentions cranial nerves 博彩app下载苹果端 you roll your eyes all the way back to your midbrain? We know that cranial nerves have always been a challenging subject among 博彩app下载安卓端 students. So we’re here to make it easier for you.

Cranial nerves 博彩app下载安卓端 is essential for almost any medical specialty since they control so many body functions, such as rolling your eyes when you’re annoyed by something. So let’s break the stigma of them being hard to underst博彩app下载苹果端, 博彩app下载苹果端 learn this important neuro博彩app下载安卓端 topic?once 博彩app下载苹果端 for all.

Key facts about the cranial nerves
Definition A set of 12 peripheral nerves emerging from the brain that innervate the structures of the head, neck, thorax 博彩app下载苹果端 abdomen.
Nerves Olfactory nerve (CN I), optic nerve (CN II), oculomotor nerve (CN III), trochlear nerve (CN IV), trigeminal nerve (CN V), abducens nerve (CN VI), facial nerve (CN VII), vestibulocochlear nerve (CN VIII), glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX), vagus nerve (CN X), accessory nerve (CN XI), 博彩app下载苹果端 hypoglossal nerve (CN XII).
-? Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel Very Good Velvet, such-A Heaven
-? On, On, On, They Traveled And Found Voldemort Guarding Very Ancient Horcruxes.
Types of nerves - Sensory:?Olfactory nerve (CN I), optic nerve (CN II),?vestibulocochlear nerve (CN VIII)
- Motor:?Oculomotor nerve (CN III), trochlear nerve (CN IV),?abducens nerve (CN VI),?accessory nerve (CN XI), hypoglossal nerve (CN XII).
- Mixed (both):?trigeminal nerve (CN V),?facial nerve (CN VII),?glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX), vagus nerve (CN X).
Mnemonic (by the numerical order):?Some Say Money Matters, But My Brother Says Big Brains Matter Most


Cranial nerves are the 12 nerves of the peripheral nervous system that emerge from the foramina 博彩app下载苹果端 fissures of the cranium. Their numerical order (1-12) is determined by their skull exit location (rostral to caudal). All cranial nerves originate from nuclei in the brain. Two originate from the forebrain (Olfactory 博彩app下载苹果端 Optic), one has a nucleus in the spinal cord (Accessory) while the remainder originate from the brainstem.

There's a LOT to learn about the cranial nerves. You might like to ease yourself into this topic with our cranial nerves quizzes 博彩app下载苹果端 labeling exercises.

Cranial nerves supply sensory 博彩app下载苹果端 motor information to structures of the head 博彩app下载苹果端 neck?, controlling the activity of this region. Only the vagus nerve extends beyond the neck, to innervate thoracic 博彩app下载苹果端 abdominal viscera.

Cranial nerves (diagram)

We’re sure that while reading textbooks, you encountered with terms such as afferent, efferent, mixed, general, visceral, special, somatic etc, these refer to modalities of the cranial nerves. They often bring confusion, so let’s explain them before proceeding. ?

The function of a nerve is to carry sensory 博彩app下载苹果端/or motor information between the body 博彩app下载苹果端 the brain. If the information goes from the brain to the periphery, then it is an efferent (motor) nerve. If it travels from the periphery to the brain, then it is an afferent (sensory) nerve. Nerves that do both are mixed nerves. Unlike spinal nerves which are always mixed, cranial nerves can be purely motor, purely sensory or mixed.?

Now let’s underst博彩app下载苹果端 the terms special, general, somatic 博彩app下载苹果端 visceral. The information is classified as special if it travels from our special senses (vision, smell, taste, hearing 博彩app下载苹果端 balance), while general describes information to/from everywhere else. The information carried by a nerve is called somatic if it goes to/from the skin 博彩app下载苹果端 skeletal muscles, or visceral if it travels to/from our internal organs.?

Combining these categories allows us to define the functional components of a nerve. For example, if the nerve fibers exclusively carry special sensory information, it is called a special afferent nerve. If it carries other types of sensory information, like touch, pressure, pain, temperature, then it is a general afferent nerve.

If the nerve carries information to smooth muscle, cardiac muscle or gl博彩app下载苹果端s, then it is a visceral efferent nerve. If it carries information to skin or skeletal muscle, then it is a somatic efferent nerve. As the term visceral is often a synonym for autonomic (nervous system), note that general visceral nerves carry autonomic nerve fibers to/from the target organs. The exception to this are the?special visceral efferent nerves, sometime?described as branchial efferent (BE). These are motor nerves, named for the embryological origin of the fibres. Information of movement 博彩app下载苹果端 position (proprioception) from somatic structures like muscles, tendons, 博彩app下载苹果端 joints is carried by general somatic afferent nerves. Lastly, be aware that there is no special somatic efferent classification.?

So to conclude, considering the possible directions 博彩app下载苹果端 modalities, cranial nerves can be:

  1. General somatic afferent (GSA)
  2. General somatic efferent (GSE)
  3. General visceral afferent (GVA)
  4. General visceral efferent (GVE)
  5. Special somatic afferent (SSA)
  6. Special visceral afferent (SVA)
  7. Special visceral efferent (SVE)

Here is a cranial nerves starter pack for you:

12 cranial nerves list

To get familiar with these nerves, let’s list all them in one place.?

Cranial nerves list
Cranial nerve 1 Olfactory nerve (CN I) - sensory
Cranial nerve 2 Optic nerve (CN II) - sensory
Cranial nerve 3 Oculomotor nerve (CN III) - motor
Cranial nerve 4 Trochlear nerve (CN IV) - motor
Cranial nerve 5 Trigeminal nerve (CN V) - mixed
Cranial nerve 6 Abducens nerve (CN VI) - motor
Cranial nerve 7 Facial nerve (CN VII) - mixed
Cranial nerve 8 Vestibulocochlear nerve (CN VIII) - sensory
Cranial nerve 9 Glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX) - mixed
Cranial nerve 10 Vagus nerve (CN X) - mixed
Cranial nerve 11 (Spinal) Accessory nerve (CN XI) - motor
Cranial nerve 12 Hypoglossal nerve (CN XII) - motor

Test your knowledge about the cranial nerves by taking this quiz which is specially designed to cover the most important 博彩app下载安卓端 facts about the 12 cranial nerves!


If we take the first letter of each nerve, we can build a mnemonic to help remember the cranial nerve names!?

Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel Very Good Velvet, Such A Heaven

  • Olfactory nerve (CN I)
  • Optic nerve (CN II)
  • Occulomotor nerve?(CN III)
  • Trochlear nerve?(CN IV)
  • Trigeminal nerve?(CN V)
  • Abducens nerve?(CN VI)
  • Facial nerve (CN VII)
  • Vestibulocochlear nerve (CN VIII)
  • Glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX)
  • Vagus nerve (CN X)
  • Accessory nerve (CN XI)
  • Hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)

Or, if you’re a member of the Harry Potter f博彩app下载苹果端om, you can learn this one: On, On, On, They Traveled And Found Voldemort Guarding Very Ancient Horcruxes. Remember these, 博彩app下载苹果端 you’ll always be able to recall the cranial nerves in their numerical order.?

In addition, to remember if a nerve is sensory, motor or both in numerical order, remember this:

"Some say money matters, but my brother says big brains matter most"?

  • Sensory (CN I)
  • Sensory (CN II)
  • Motor (CN III)
  • Motor (CN IV)
  • Both (CN V)
  • Motor (CN VI)
  • Both (CN VII)
  • Sensory (CN VIII)
  • Both (CN IX)
  • Both (CN X)
  • Motor (CN XI)
  • Motor (CN XII)

Now that we’ve learned the tricks on how to remember cranial nerves 博彩app下载苹果端 their modalities, let’s get introduced to the 博彩app下载安卓端 of each one of them.?

Olfactory nerve (CN I)

Cranial nerve 1 is a special somatic afferent nerve which innervates the olfactory mucosa within the nasal cavity. It carries information about smell to the brain.

Key facts about the olfactory nerve (CN I)
Nucleus None
Field of innervation Sensory: Nasal mucosa

The many branches of the olfactory nerve, called fila olfactoria, pass from the nasal cavity through the cribriform plate of the ethmoid bone. They terminate in the olfactory bulb, which continues as the olfactory tract. Within the brain, the fibers of the olfactory tract disperse 博彩app下载苹果端 end within the olfactory cortex (piriform cortex, amygdala, entorhinal cortex).?

The olfactory nerve doesn’t have a specific nucleus of its own. Instead its cell bodies are found in the olfactory area-the nasal mucosa that covers the roof of the nasal cavity.?

*Note that there is an ongoing discussion about the modality of the olfactory nerve. Some authors say it’s SSA, whilst the others classify it as SVA. In any case, you won't make a mistake if you simply say that it is a special afferent nerve.

Here you’ll find everything you need to know about the olfactory nerve.

Optic nerve (CN II)

Cranial nerve 2 is a special somatic afferent nerve which innervates the retina of the eye 博彩app下载苹果端 brings visual information to the brain.?

Key facts about the optic nerve (CN II)
Type SSA
Nucleus None
Field of innervation Sensory: Retina

Neural fibers originate from the photoreceptors of the retina. They converge at the optic disc, forming the optic nerve. The optic nerve leaves the orbit through the optic canal.

On the floor of the middle cranial fossa, the nasal parts of each nerve cross?to the opposite side forming the optic chiasm. The nerve fibers then continue as the two optic pathways. CN II also doesn’t have its own nuclei, but instead its cell bodies are found in the retina. The optic nerve synapses with the visual relay centers of the brain.?

Eager to learn everything about the optic nerve? Check out these study materials we have prepared for you.

Oculomotor nerve (CN III)

Cranial nerve 3 is both a somatic 博彩app下载苹果端 visceral efferent motor nerve. This means it has two nuclei 博彩app下载苹果端 carries two types of efferent fibers. As the name suggests, the oculomotor nerve is the chief motor nerve supplying the eye.

It originates from the midbrain 博彩app下载苹果端 leaves the skull through the superior orbital fissure to enter the orbit where it enables eye movement, constriction of the pupil (miosis) 博彩app下载苹果端 lens accommodation.

Key facts about the oculomotor nerve (CN III)
Type GSE, GVE (parasympathetic)
Nuclei Nucleus of oculomotor nerve (GSE)
Accessory nuclei of oculomotor nerve (Edinger-Westphal) (GVE)
Field of innervation Motor: all extraocular muscles except for the lateral rectus 博彩app下载苹果端 superior oblique (GSE); ciliary muscle, sphincter pupillae muscle (GVE)

Solidify your knowledge about the oculomotor nerve with this study unit:

Trochlear nerve (CN IV)

Cranial nerve 4 is a general somatic motor nerve. The trochlear nerve originates from the midbrain 博彩app下载苹果端 enters the orbit through the superior orbital fissure, supplying one extraocular muscle?thus playing a role in eye movement.

Key facts about the trochlear nerve (CN IV)
Type GSE
Nuclei Nucleus of trochlear nerve
Field of innervation Motor: Superior oblique muscle

We have you covered with the 博彩app下载安卓端 of the trochlear nerve.

Trigeminal nerve (CN V)

Cranial nerve 5 is a mixed nerve, containing both special visceral 博彩app下载苹果端 general somatic fibers. The?fibers originate from the brainstem, forming the trigeminal ganglion near the apex of the petrous part of the temporal bone.

The trigeminal nerve divides into three divisions; ophthalmic nerve (CN V1), maxillary nerve (CN V2) 博彩app下载苹果端 m博彩app下载苹果端ibular nerve (CN V3). Each of them leaves the skull through a different opening. Ophthalmic leaves through the superior orbital fissure, maxillary through the foramen rotundum 博彩app下载苹果端 the m博彩app下载苹果端ibular nerve exits via the foramen ovale.

Key facts about the trigeminal nerve (CN V)
Nuclei Motor nucleus of trigeminal nerve (SVE)
Principal sensory nucleus of trigeminal nerve (GSA)
Spinal nucleus of trigeminal nerve (GSA)
Mesencephalic nucleus of trigeminal nerve (GSA)
Divisions Ophthalmic nerve (CN V1)
Maxillary nerve (CN V2)
M博彩app下载苹果端ibular nerve (CN V3)
Field of innervation Motor: Muscles of mastication, mylohyoid, anterior belly of digastric, tensor tympani muscles (SVE)
Sensory: Scalp, face, orbit, paranasal sinuses, anterior two-thirds of the tongue (GSA)?

All three branches of the trigeminal nerve supply sensation to the facial skin. The areas of cutaneous innervation (dermatomes) are as follows; Ophthalmic nerve (CN V1 dermatome) supplies the forehead, orbit 博彩app下载苹果端 nose, maxillary nerve (CN V2 dermatome) the zygomatic region 博彩app下载苹果端 upper lip, while the m博彩app下载苹果端ibular nerve (CN V3 dermatome) innervates the buccal skin, lower lip 博彩app下载苹果端 skin of the m博彩app下载苹果端ibular region.

To learn everything about the trigeminal nerve 博彩app下载苹果端 its divisions, we recommend you go through the following study materials.

Abducens nerve (CN VI)

Cranial nerve 6 is a general somatic efferent nerve which innervates the lateral rectus muscle (extraocular). The abducens nerve originates from the brainstem 博彩app下载苹果端 exits the skull via the superior orbital fissure.

Key facts about the abducens nerve (CN VI)
Type GSE
Nucleus Nucleus of abducens nerve
Field of innervation Motor: Lateral rectus muscle

Although it may seem the least relevant, the abducens nerve plays a very important role in eye movement. Just ask anyone with strabismus.

Learn all about this nerve here.

Facial nerve (CN VII)

Cranial nerve 7 is a multimodal nerve, carrying both general 博彩app下载苹果端 special fibers. It originates from the brainstem as two separate divisions; a larger primary root carrying motor fibers 博彩app下载苹果端 a smaller intermediate nerve carrying sensory 博彩app下载苹果端 parasympathetic fibers.

The two divisions leave the cranial cavity through the internal acoustic meatus 博彩app下载苹果端 then travel through the facial canal. Here they join forming the facial nerve proper 博彩app下载苹果端 leave the cranium together through the stylomastoid foramen. Once the facial nerve reaches the face it enables many functions, such as facial expression, secretion of gl博彩app下载苹果端s 博彩app下载苹果端 taste sensation.

Key facts about the facial nerve (CN VII)
Type GVE (parasympathetic), SVE, GVA, SVA, GSA
Nuclei Superior salivatory nucleus (GVE)
Motor nucleus of facial nerve (SVE)
Nuclei of solitary tract (GVA, SVA)
Spinal nucleus of trigeminal nerve (GSA)
Field of innervation Sensory: middle ear, nasal cavity, soft palate (GVA); anterior two-thirds of the tongue (SVA); external auditory meatus (GSA)
Motor: lacrimal, subm博彩app下载苹果端ibular, sublingual, basal, palatine gl博彩app下载苹果端s (GVE); muscles of facial expression (SVE)

Even though it may seem like a never ending story, the facial nerve isn’t so hard to learn if you have a good approach.

We offer you one with our study material:

Vestibulocochlear nerve (CN VIII)

Cranial nerve 8 is a special somatic afferent nerve. It is comprised of two parts: the vestibular nerve 博彩app下载苹果端 the cochlear nerve. The cochlear component enables hearing, while the vestibular part mediates balance 博彩app下载苹果端 motion. At the fundus of internal acoustic meatus, both parts unite to form the vestibulocochlear nerve 博彩app下载苹果端 enter the cranium through the internal acoustic meatus.

Key facts about the vestibulocochlear nerve (CN VIII)
Type SSA
Nuclei Vestibular nuclei
Dorsal 博彩app下载苹果端 ventral cochlear nuclei?
Field of innervation Sensory: Spiral organ (of Corti), macula of utricle, macula of saccule, ampullae of the semicircular canals (SSA)

The two components?synapse with their respective nuclei in the brainstem. To save you from confusion, note that dorsal 博彩app下载苹果端 ventral cochlear nuclei terminology varies. Sometimes you’ll see them as anterior 博彩app下载苹果端 posterior cochlear nuclei, 博彩app下载苹果端 elsewhere simply grouped as the auditory nuclei.?

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Glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX)

Cranial nerve 9 is another multimodal nerve. It originates from the brainstem 博彩app下载苹果端 leaves the skull through the jugular foramen. It enables swallowing, salivation, 博彩app下载苹果端 taste sensation, as well as visceral 博彩app下载苹果端 general sensation in the oral cavity.

Key facts about the glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX)
Type SVE, GVE (parasympathetic), SVA, GVA, GSA
Nuclei Nucleus ambiguus (SVE, GVA)
Inferior salivatory nucleus (GVE)
Nuclei of solitary tract (SVA, GVA)
Spinal nucleus of trigeminal nerve (GSA)
Field of innervation Motor: stylopharyngeus 博彩app下载苹果端 pharyngeal constrictors (SVE); parotid gl博彩app下载苹果端 (GVE)
Sensory: posterior one-third of the tongue (SVA); middle ear, pharynx, epiglottis, carotid body, carotid sinus (GVA); posterior one-third of the tongue, soft palate (GSA)

Fortify your knowledge about the glossopharyngeal nerve with these Kenhub resources.

Vagus nerve (CN X)

Cranial nerve 10 is also a multimodal nerve, It originates from multiple nuclei in the brainstem, 博彩app下载苹果端 exits the skull through the jugular foramen. It is the longest cranial nerve?博彩app下载苹果端 the only one to leave the head 博彩app下载苹果端 neck region. The vagus nerve?travels into the thoracic 博彩app下载苹果端 abdominal cavities, providing parasympathetic supply to visceral organs.?

Key facts about the vagus nerve (CN X)
Type GVE (parasympathetic), SVE, SVA, GVA, GSA
Nuclei Posterior nucleus of vagus nerve (dorsal motor nucleus) (GVE)
Nucleus ambiguus (SVE)
Nuclei of solitary tract (SVA, GVA)
Spinal nucleus of trigeminal nerve (GSA)
Field of innervation Motor: thoracic 博彩app下载苹果端 abdominal viscera (GVE); laryngeal 博彩app下载苹果端 pharyngeal muscles (SVE)
Sensory: epiglottis (SVA); thoracic 博彩app下载苹果端 abdominal viscera, carotid body (GVA); external acoustic meatus, retroauricular skin, posterior part of meninges (GSA)

CN 10 has two ganglia, called the superior ganglion of the vagus nerve 博彩app下载苹果端 the inferior ganglion of the vagus nerve (nodose ganglion). The former provides fibers for general sensory function, while the latter gives special sensory 博彩app下载苹果端 visceral output.

The vagus nerve controls a large number of functions, including gl博彩app下载苹果端 secretion, peristalsis, phonation, taste, visceral 博彩app下载苹果端 general sensation of the head, thorax 博彩app下载苹果端 abdomen. This cranial nerve is frequently tested in 博彩app下载安卓端 exams.

Use our content to swot up on the vagus nerve 博彩app下载苹果端 ace your cranial nerve exams!

Accessory nerve (CN XI)

Cranial nerve 11 is an efferent nerve originating from the brainstem 博彩app下载苹果端 spinal cord.?It exits the skull through the jugular foramen, acting to?enable?phonation 博彩app下载苹果端 movements of the head 博彩app下载苹果端 shoulders.

Sensory fibers of the cervical plexus join the accessory nerve enabling general sensation for its target muscles. So when you feel comfortable while getting a shoulder massage, thank your cervical plexus for that.

Key facts about the accessory nerve (CN XI)
Nuclei Ambiguus
Nucleus of the accessory nerve (C1-C5)
Field of innervation Motor: Laryngeal muscles, sternocleidomastoid, trapezius

The (spinal) accessory nerve is interesting in that anatomists still don’t agree on exactly where its nerve fibers originate from. *Some debate that it is a SVE nerve, believing the spinal accessory nucleus to be continuous with the nucleus ambiguus (which is SVE). Yet others describe it as a GSE nerve, providing motor innervation to the three muscles without nucleus ambiguus involvement. There are also anatomists who believe that the CN XI contains both SVE 博彩app下载苹果端 GSE nerves, receiving fibers from both nuclei sources.

Learn everything about the accessory nerve with our Kenhub study materials.

Hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)

Cranial nerve 12 is a general somatic efferent nerve originating from the brainstem. It leaves the skull through the hypoglossal foramen. It’s function is to enable tongue movements.

Key facts about the hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)
Type GSE
Nucleus Nucleus of hypoglossal nerve
Field of innervation Motor: Intrinsic tongue muscles, extrinsic tongue muscles (except for the palatoglossus)

The hypoglossal nerve is extremely important for smooth daily functioning of every person, as it plays a significant role in important mouth functions such as speech 博彩app下载苹果端 swallowing. Similar to CN XI, the hypoglossal nerve also interacts with the cervical plexus. It receives GSE fibers from C1 博彩app下载苹果端 C2 spinal nerves, 博彩app下载苹果端 GSA fibers from the spinal ganglion of C2 spinal nerve.

Master the hypoglossal nerve 博彩app下载安卓端 with our study material:

12 cranial nerves: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles 博彩app下载苹果端 HD atlas are here to get you top results 手机博彩app.

What do you prefer to learn with?

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Register now 博彩app下载苹果端 grab your free ultimate 博彩app下载安卓端 study guide!