Connection lost. Please refresh the page.
Get help How to study Login Register
Ready to learn?
Pick your favorite study tool

Abducens nerve (cranial nerve VI)

Recommended video: Oculomotor, trochlear and abducens nerves [13:48]
Course of the oculomotor, trochlear and abducens nerves.

The abducens (or abducent) nerve is the sixth paired cranial nerve (CN VI). Along with the oculomotor nerve (CN III) and the trochlear nerve (CN IV), it is a purely motor nerve responsible for controlling movement of the eyeball.

Similar to oculomotor and trochlear nerves, the abducens nerve attributes its name to its function. It supplies the muscle (lateral rectus muscle) involved in abduction of the eye i.e. drawing the eye away from the midline.

This article will delve deeper into the anatomy and function of the abducens nerve by reviewing the origin and course of the nerve, its field of innervation and clinical significance.

Key facts about the abducens nerve
Type General somatic efferent (GSE) / Motor nerve
Origin Medullopontine sulcus
Innervation Lateral rectus muscle
  1. Origin and course
  2. Innervation
  3. Clinical relations
    1. Nerve compression
  4. Sources
+ Show all

Origin and course

The abducens nerve (CN VI) arises from its associated nucleus (nucleus of abducens nerve) located beneath the floor of the fourth ventricle in the caudal pons. Nerve fibers pass anteriorly through the pons to emerge from the medullopontine sulcus at the junction between the pons and the pyramid of the medulla (pontomedullary junction).

The nerve then continues ventrally and pierces the dura mater covering the basilar part of the occipital bone.

It reaches the superior margin of the petrous part of the temporal bone to enter the cavernous sinus, accompanying the internal carotid artery, the oculomotor nerve (CN III), trochlear nerve (CN IV) and the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve (CN V1) in their course. The abducens nerve concludes its path by exiting the cavernous sinus to enter the orbit via the superior orbital fissure and then pass through the common tendinous ring (Anulus of Zinn).


The abducens nerve is a purely motor nerve, responsible for providing general somatic efferent (GSE)/ motor innervation to just one muscle, the lateral rectus muscle of the eye.

The muscle arises from the common tendinous ring and passes forward to attach to the lateral part of the anterior eyeball, posterior to the corneoscleral junction.

Contraction of the lateral rectus leads to abduction of the eyeball in the horizontal plane.

It is worth highlighting that the lateral rectus muscle of the left eye would abduct the eye to the left, while the muscle on the right eye would move it to the right (always directing the gaze laterally along the horizontal plane).

Studying the cranial nerves can be as easy as ABC. Give our cranial nerves quizzes a shot and you will master cranial nerve anatomy in no time.

Learn more about the abducens nerve and the other cranial nerves in the following study units!

Abducens nerve (cranial nerve VI): want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

What do you prefer to learn with?

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more.

Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

Register now and grab your free ultimate anatomy study guide!