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The facial nerve is the seventh cranial nerve, or simply cranial nerve VII. It emerges from the brainstem between the pons and the medulla, controls the muscles of facial expression, and functions in the conveyance of taste sensations from the anterior two-thirds of the tongue and oral cavity. It also supplies preganglionic parasympathetic fibers to several head and neck ganglia.
The cell bodies for the facial nerve are grouped in anatomical areas called nuclei or ganglia. The cell bodies for the afferent nerves are found in the geniculate ganglion for taste sensation. The cell bodies for muscular efferent nerves are found in the facial motor nucleus whereas the cell bodies for the parasympathetic efferent nerves are found in the superior salivatory nucleus.
Greater petrosal nerve - provides parasympathetic innervation to several glands, including the nasal gland, palatine gland, lacrimal gland, and pharyngeal gland. It also provides parasympathetic innervation to the sphenoid sinus, frontal sinus, maxillary sinus, ethmoid sinus and nasal cavity.
Nerve to stapedius - provides motor innervation for stapedius muscle in middle ear
Special sensory taste fibers for the anterior 2/3 of the tongue.
Distal to stylomastoid foramen, the following nerves branch off the facial nerve:
Posterior auricular nerve - controls movements of some of the scalp muscles around the ear
Branch to Posterior belly of Digastric muscle as well as the Stylohyoid muscle
Five major facial branches (in parotid gland) - from top to bottom (a helpful mnemonic being To Zanzibar By Motor Car):
Marginal mandibular branch
The main function of the facial nerve is motor control of most of the muscles of facial expression. It also innervates the posterior belly of the digastric muscle, the stylohyoid muscle, and the stapedius muscle of the middle ear. All of these muscles are striated muscles of branchiomeric origin developing from the 2nd pharyngeal arch.
In addition, the facial nerve receives taste sensations from the anterior two-thirds of the tongue via the chorda tympani; taste sensation is sent to the gustatory portion (superior part) of the solitary nucleus. General sensation from the anterior two-thirds of tongue are supplied by afferent fibers of the third division of the fifth cranial nerve (V-3). These sensory (V-3) and taste (VII) fibers travel together as the lingual nerve briefly before the chorda tympani leaves the lingual nerve to enter the tympanic cavity (middle ear) via the petrotympanic fissure. It joins the rest of the facial nerve via the canaliculus for chorda tympani. The facial nerve then forms the geniculate ganglion, which contains the cell bodies of the taste fibers of chorda tympani and other taste and sensory pathways. From the geniculate ganglion the taste fibers continue as the intermediate nerve which goes to the upper anterior quadrant of the fundus of the internal acoustic meatus along with the motor root of the facial nerve. The intermediate nerve reaches the posterior cranial fossa via the internal acoustic meatus before synapsing in the solitary nucleus.
The facial nerve also supplies a small amount of afferent innervation to the oropharynx below the palatine tonsil. There is also a small amount of cutaneous sensation carried by the nervus intermedius from the skin in and around the auricle (outer ear).
The facial nerve also supplies parasympathetic fibers to the submandibular gland and sublingual glands via chorda tympani. Parasympathetic innervation serves to increase the flow of saliva from these glands. It also supplies parasympathetic innervation to the nasal mucosa and the lacrimal gland via the pterygopalatine ganglion. The parasympathetic fibers that travel in the facial nerve originate in the superior salivary nucleus.
The facial nerve also functions as the efferent limb of the corneal reflex.
Finally, the facial nerve also carries axons of type GVA, general visceral afferent, which provide sensation to the soft palate and parts of the nasal cavity.
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