What are cranial nerve nuclei?

What are cranial nerve nuclei?

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I am having a really hard time trying to understand what cranial nerve nuclei are. I have been reading/watching videos and I keep hearing, "that is where the cranial nerves make connection with the brainstem." Also, I keep hearing that some cranial nerves may have multiple nuclei and some nuclei may have multiple nerve synapsing there; however, this information doesn't really help me understand what they are. Are they a processing center? If so, doesn't information get processed in the cortex? So the main question is: What is a cranial nerve nucleus and what is it's function? What does it mean by "where nerves make connections"? I am attaching the image which I've been studying. You may refer to that when answering this question.

Nerves (including cranial nerves) are constituted of neurons, and other supporting cells and structures (e.g. myelin sheath and extracellular protein matrix). Neurons are highly specialized cells that have a particular cellular anatomy:

As you can see, the cell body (or soma) contains the nucleus, and projects it's axon towards other structures in the body, sometimes more than a meter away! Cranial nerves (like other nerves) are a collection of the axons, not the cell bodies themselves. The cell bodies reside together, in the brainstem, forming what we call nuclei. So that's simply what they are.

(p. 65) Cranial Nerves and Cranial Nerve Nuclei

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The functions of cranial nerves, conduits for sensory information to enter and motor information to exit the brain, and the common complaints arising from cranial nerve injuries are described. The modified anatomical arrangement of sensory and motor territories in the brainstem provides a framework for understanding the organization of the cranial nerve nuclei. A thorough grounding in the anatomy of cranial nerves and cranial nerve nuclei allows the student to deduce whether a given set of symptoms arises from a central or peripheral lesion. The near triad, pupillary light reflex, and Bell’s palsy are particularly emphasized. The contributions of the six extraocular muscles to controlling eye position and to potential diplopia are described along with the consequences of oculomotor, trochlear, and abducens nerve dysfunction. The potential for lesions of facial, glossopharyngeal, vagus, and hypoglossal nerves to yield dysphagia and dysarthria are outlined.

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What are Nuclei?

Nuclei are the clusters of neuron cells bodies found in the central nervous system. The paths of large axons arising from these cell bodies are called tracts of the central nervous system. Nuclei make the grey matter while tracts make the white matter in the central nervous system. Brian is a large collection of nuclei, where processing of information occur. Tracts that interconnect the groups of nuclei transfer the nerve impulse to their end points. Some of the major parts of the brain such as thalamus and hypothalamus are identified with the help of interconnected groups of nuclei. Even though the term ganglia is associated with peripheral nervous system, there are special multiple subcortical nuclei called basal ganglia in the brain. Basal ganglia are interconnected with cerebral cortex, thalamus, and brainstem of the brain and are linked with certain functions of the brain including motor control, emotions, cognition, and learning.

Cranial Nerves Anatomy

The sensory neurons in the olfactory epithelium are outside the meninges and below the cribriform plate. Ten of the cranial nerves originate in the brainstem.

The Cranial Nerves And Brainstem

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Cranial nerves anatomy. Examination of the cranial nerves allows one to view the brainstem all the way from its rostral to caudal extent. The first two olfactory and optic arise from the cerebrum whereas the remaining ten emerge from the brain stem. In this article we shall look at the anatomical course of the nerve and the motor sensory and parasympathetic functions of its terminal branches.

The cranial nerves are numbered one to twelve always using the roman numerals i to xii. Cranial nerves relay information between the brain and parts of the body primarily to and from regions of the head and neck. Key points the vagus nerve cranial nerve x sends information about the bodys organs to the brain.

This mri cranial nerves axial cross sectional anatomy tool is absolutely free to use. The vagus nerve is responsible for heart rate gastrointestinal peristalsis and sweating to name. The vagus nerve has axons that originate from or enter the dorsal nucleus of the vagus nerve.

The facial nerve is associated with the derivatives of the second pharyngeal arch. Optic nerve ii the optic nerve is part of the special senses cranial nerves and represents. The facial nerve is the seventh paired cranial nerve.

Cranial nerves are the 12 nerves of the peripheral nervous system that innervate the structures of the head and neck. The course of the facial nerve is very complex. The cranial nerves are the 12 paired sets of nerves that arise from the cerebrum or brainstem and leave the central nervous system through cranial foramina rather than through the spine.

Vagus nerve cn x is the only cranial nerve that innervates the structures beyond the head and neck region. Cranial nerves olfactory nerve i olfaction is part of the special senses cranial nerve group and represents. The cranial nerves are a set of 12 paired nerves that arise directly from the brain.

Oculomotor nerve iii the oculomotor nerve is part of the group of cranial nerves. Cranial nerve anatomy by greg mclauchlin i olfactory nerve the olfactory nerve is unique but not in ways that make it particularly interesting. Cranial nerves are the nerves that emerge directly from the brain including the brainstem in contrast to spinal nerves which emerge from segments of the spinal cord.

The brainstem can be divided into three levels the midbrain the pons and the medulla. The names of the cranial nerves relate to their function and are numerically identified in roman numerals i xii.

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Ganglia: Ganglia refer to the structures that contain a number of cell bodies of the peripheral nervous system.

Nuclei: Nuclei refer to the structures that contain a number of cell bodies of the central nervous system.

Occur in

Ganglia: Ganglia occur in the PNS.

Nuclei: Nuclei occur in the CNS.


Ganglia: Ganglia form the plexuses.

Nuclei: Nuclei occur in the gray matter of the brain.


Ganglia: Dorsal root ganglia, autonomic ganglia, and cranial nerve ganglia are the examples of ganglia.

Nuclei: Caudate, putamen, dentate, emboliform, pallidum, substantia nigra, and subthalamic nuclei are examples of nuclei.


Ganglia and nuclei are clusters of nerve cell bodies. Ganglia are cell bodies of the sensory neurons in the PNS. They are arranged in the both sides of the spinal cord. Nuclei are the clusters of cell bodies of the nerve cells in the CNS. The cell bodies of both motor neurons and the sensory neurons form nuclei. The main difference between ganglia and nuclei is the type of cell bodies present in each type of clusters.


1. “Ganglion.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 20 Aug. 2014, Available here. Accessed 12 Sept. 2017.
2. “Nucleus (Neuroanatomy).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Aug. 2017, Available here. Accessed 12 Sept. 2017.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Gray675” By Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See “Book” section below) Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 675 (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
2. � Connections of the Parasympathetic Nervous System” By OpenStax College – Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site. Jun 19, 2013. (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
3. � Frontal Section Basal Nuclei” By OpenStax – (CC BY 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things