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Hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)

Learning objectives

On completing this study unit, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the origin of the hypoglossal nerve and its associated nuclei.
  2. Understand the course of the hypoglossal nerve.
  3. Identify the branches of the hypoglossal nerve and their supply areas.

Watch video

The hypoglossal nerve, is primarily a motor nerve which arises as a series of rootlets from the lateral surface of the medulla oblongata, between the pyramid and olive.

It supplies motor innervation (GSE) to the extrinsic muscles of the tongue with the exception of palatoglossus (i.e. genioglossus, hyoglossus and styloglossus muscles) as well as all of the intrinsic muscles of the tongue (superior longitudinal muscle of tongue, inferior longitudinal muscle of tongue, transverse muscle of tongue and vertical muscle of tongue).

Find out more about the pathway, branches and function of the hypoglossal nerve by watching the video below!

Take a quiz

Put your knowledge on the hypoglossal nerve to the test with the quiz below.

Looking for a broader array of questions on the cranial nerves? Try out our fully customizable quiz below.

Browse atlas

Take a look at our atlas gallery to further review the course, distribution and supply of the hypoglossal nerve in more detail.


Key points about the hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)
Structure and features Fibers: General somatic efferent (GSE)
: Medulla oblongata (between pyramid and olive)
Exits skull
: Hypoglossal canal
Associated nuclei
: Nucleus of hypoglossal nerve
Branches Lingual branches of hypoglossal nerve

Note that whilst the following branches are given off by the hypoglossal nerve, their fibers originate from the cervical plexus (C1-2):

Meningeal branch
Superior root of ansa cervicalis
Thyrohyoid branch 
Geniohyoid branch 
Function Motor innervation:
Extrinsic muscles of the tongue: genioglossus, hyoglossus and styloglossus
Intrinsic muscles of the tongue: superior longitudinal lingual, inferior longitudinal lingual, transversus linguae and verticalis linguae muscle

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