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Ophthalmic Branch of the Trigeminal Nerve

The trigeminal nerve is the fifth of the twelve cranial nerves, which is divided into three main branches: the ophthalmic nerve, the maxillary nerve, and the mandibular nerve.


Its first division is the ophthalmic branch, which consists of afferent sensory fibers. The word afferent means toward the centre, as in from a peripheral area of a limb to the central nervous system. The word efferent is the opposite of afferent, meaning away from the centre and toward the periphery; when the stimulus is carried to the peripheral area from the brain.

Recommended video: Ophthalmic nerve
Course and branches of the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve.


The ophthalmic nerve is a purely sensory nerve. Its branches carries sensory information from the eye, orbit, forehead, anterior scalp, frontal and ethmoid sinuses.

Ophthalmic nerve - lateral view

Ophthalmic nerve - lateral view

Pathway & Branches

The pathway for afferent sensory fibers of the ophthalmic nerve from the proprioceptors until the trigeminal nuclei (after the merger into one main cranial nerve) is the following (from the initiation in the periphery to the termination in the brain):

  • The ophthalmic area consists of the following nerves: the anterior ethmoidal nerve which gives external and internal nasal branches; the supratrochlear and infratrochlear nerves; the supraorbital nerve; the long and short ciliary nerves, which contain postganglionic fibers from the ciliary ganglion; the frontal nerve and the lacrimal nerve.

Anterior ethmoidal nerve -sagittal view

Anterior ethmoidal nerve -sagittal view

  • Both the preganglionic fibers from the ciliary ganglion and fibers from the peripheral branches merge into the ophthalmic branch.

Ciliary ganglion -lateral view

Ciliary ganglion -lateral view

  • The ophthalmic branch gives off a recurrent tentorial branch which supplies the tentorium cerebelli and supratentorial falx cerebri.

Recurrent tentorial branch of the opthalmic nerve - lateral view

Recurrent tentorial branch of the oppthalmic nerve - lateral view

  • The ophthalmic nerve then synapses on the trigeminal ganglion, otherwise known as the semilunar Gasserian ganglion.
  • The fibers then continue to the pontine nucleus and then the spinal nucleus and spinal tract.

Spinal nucleus and tract of CN V - lateral view

Spinal nucleus and tract of CN V - lateral view


  • The ophthalmic nerve is the first of three main branches of the trigeminal nerve (CN V).
  • The ophthalmic nerve branches enter the orbit through the superior orbital fissure, then courses on the lateral wall of the cavernous sinus before synapsing at the trigeminal ganglion.

Superior orbital fissure - anterior view

Superior orbital fissure - anterior view

  • The ophthalmic nerve is purely sensory. Also, its lacrimal branch receives postganglionic parasympathetic fibers from the zygomatic branch of the maxillary nerve.
  • The ophthalmic nerve main branches are:
  1. Nasociliary branch.
  2. Lacrimal branch.
  3. Frontal branch
  4. Tentorial branch.
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Show references


  • Frank H. Netter, Atlas der Anatomie, 5th Edition (Bilingual Edition: English and German), Saunders, Chapter 1, Plate 121, published 2010.


  • Dr. Alexandra Sierosławska


  • Ophthalmic nerve - lateral view - Paul Kim
  • Anterior ethmoidal nerve -sagittal view - Begoña Rodriguez
  • Ciliary ganglion -lateral view - Paul Kim
  • Recurrent tentorial branch of the ophthalmic nerve - lateral view - Paul Kim
  • Spinal nucleus and tract of CN V - lateral view - Paul Kim
  • Superior orbital fissure - anterior view - Paul Kim
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