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Ophthalmic nerve (CN V1)

Learning objectives

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

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

Watch video

The trigeminal nerve, otherwise known as the 5th cranial nerve (CN V), is a mixed nerve meaning that it is made up of both sensory and motor components. It is formed by 3 sensory nuclei (mesencephalic/ principal sensory/spinal nucleus of trigeminal nerve) and one motor nucleus (motor nucleus of trigeminal nerve). At the level of the pons, efferents of the sensory nuclei merge to form a large sensory root, while those from the motor nucleus continue as a smaller motor root. These roots course anteriorly out of the posterior cranial fossa and travel along the anterior surface of the petrous part of the temporal bone where the sensory root expands to form the trigeminal ganglion, from which arises the three divisions of the trigeminal nerve: the ophthalmic (V1), maxillary (V2) and mandibular nerves (V3). 

The ophthalmic nerve is the most superior branch of the trigeminal ganglion, and provides general somatic afferent (GSA) innervation to structures of the upper portion of the face, nasal cavity and mucosa of paranasal sinuses. It extends from the trigeminal ganglion through the lateral wall of the cavernous sinus where it divides into three main branches (the lacrimal, frontal and nasociliary nerves) all of which pass through the superior orbital fissure. 

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

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

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Browse atlas

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

Summary

Key points about the ophthalmic nerve
Structure and features Fibers: General somatic afferent (GSA)
Origin
: Trigeminal ganglion
Exits skull
: Superior orbital fissure
Associated nuclei
: Sensory nuclei (mesencephalic, principal sensory, spinal nuclei of trigeminal nerve) and motor nucleus of trigeminal nerve
Associated ganglia
: Trigeminal ganglion, ciliary ganglion
Branches  Frontal nerve (supraorbital and supratrochlear nerves)
Lacrimal nerve
Nasociliary nerve (branch of nasociliary nerve to ciliary ganglion, long ciliary nerves, posterior ethmoidal nerve, anterior ethmoidal nerve, infratrochlear nerve)
Function Provides Innervation to forehead, scalp, eyelids, eye, conjunctiva and nasal cavity

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