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Symptoms and signs of cranial nerve pathology are common in internal medicine. They often develop in the context of a widespread neurologic disturbance, and in such situations, cranial nerve involvement may represent the initial manifestation of the illness. In other disorders, involvement is largely restricted to one or several cranial nerves; these distinctive disorders are reviewed in this chapter. Disorders of ocular movement are discussed in Chap. 25, disorders of hearing in Chap. 29, and vertigo and disorders of vestibular function in Chap. 12.



The trigeminal (fifth cranial) nerve supplies sensation to the skin of the face and anterior half of the head (Fig. 42-1). The motor part innervates the muscles involved in chewing (including masseters and pterygoids) as well as the tensor tympani of the middle ear (hearing especially for high-pitched tones). It is the largest of the cranial nerves. It exits in the lateral midpons and traverses the middle cranial fossa to the semilunar (gasserian, trigeminal) ganglion in Meckel’s cave, where the nerve divides into three divisions (ophthalmic [V1], maxillary [V2], and mandibular [V3]). V1 and V2 traverse the cavernous sinus to exit in the superior orbital fissure and foramen rotundum, located above and below the eye socket respectively; V3 exits through the foramen ovale. The trigeminal nerve is predominantly sensory, and motor innervation is exclusively carried in V3. The cornea is primarily innervated by V1, although an inferior crescent may be V2. Upon entering the pons, pain and temperature fibers descend ipsilaterally to the upper cervical spinal cord as the spinal tract of V, before synapsing with the spinal nucleus of V; this accounts for the facial numbness that can occur with spinal cord lesions above C2. In the brainstem, the spinal tract of V is also located adjacent to crossed ascending fibers of the spinothalamic tract, producing a “crossed” sensory loss for pain and temperature (ipsilateral face, contralateral arm/trunk/leg) with lesions of the lateral lower brainstem. CN V is also ensheathed by oligodendrocyte-derived, rather than Schwann cell–derived, myelin for up to 7 mm after it leaves the brainstem, unlike just a few millimeters for other cranial and spinal nerves; this may explain the high frequency of trigeminal neuralgia in multiple sclerosis (Chap. 45), a disorder of oligodendrocyte myelin.


The trigeminal nerve and its branches and sensory distribution on the face. The three major sensory divisions of the trigeminal nerve consist of the ophthalmic, maxillary, and mandibular nerves. (Adapted from Waxman SG: Clinical Neuroanatomy, 26th ed. Copyright © The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.)


Clinical manifestations

Trigeminal neuralgia is characterized by excruciating paroxysms of pain ...

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