Q 1.12. Facial Nerve Anatomy and Physiology



    • The facial nerve, also known as the seventh cranial nerve, plays a crucial role in innervating various areas of the head and neck.
    • It contains motor, sensory, and parasympathetic (secretomotor) nerve fibers.



    • The facial nerve comprises three nuclei:
      • Main motor nucleus: Responsible for voluntary control of facial muscles.
      • Parasympathetic nuclei: Involved in secretomotor supply to submandibular and sublingual salivary glands, as well as the lacrimal gland.
      • Sensory nucleus: Conveys taste sensation from the anterior two-thirds of the tongue.


Motor Pathway:

    • The upper motor neuron resides in the facial motor area of the precentral gyrus.
    • Axons from the upper motor neuron travel along the ipsilateral corticobulbar tract to the lower pons.
    • Most fibers cross to the other side and synapse with the lower motor neuron.
    • The main motor nucleus (lower motor neuron) divides into four subnuclei:
      • Dorsal: Innervates facial muscles of the ipsilateral upper quadrant.
      • Intermediate: Receives corticobulbar input from both hemispheres.
      • Lateral: Innervates muscles of the ipsilateral lower quadrant of the face.
      • Medial: Supplies auricular muscles, posterior belly of the digastric muscle, stapedius muscle, and stylohyoid muscle.


Parasympathetic Pathway:

    • The superior salivatory and lacrimal nuclei constitute the parasympathetic nuclei.
    • Located in the lower pons, posterolateral to the facial motor nucleus.
    • The superior salivatory nucleus supplies sublingual and submandibular salivary glands, as well as palatine and nasal glands.
    • Inputs to the lacrimal nucleus come from the hypothalamus (emotional response) and the sensory trigeminal nerve (reflex lacrimation due to eye irritation).


Impairment Syndromes and Facial Nerve Neuritis

  • Bell’s Palsy: A common condition characterized by sudden, unilateral facial weakness or paralysis due to inflammation of the facial nerve.
  • Ramsay Hunt Syndrome: Caused by herpes zoster virus affecting the geniculate ganglion, leading to facial paralysis and painful vesicles in the ear canal.
  • Facial Nerve Neuritis: Inflammation of the facial nerve resulting in facial weakness or paralysis.


Facial nerve damage in clinical practice – how to understand the main differential diagnosis?

  1. Bell’s Palsy:

    • Cause: It’s like a temporary glitch in the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) due to inflammation.
    • Symptoms: Suddenly, one side of your face feels lazy—it droops, like a sleepy emoji. But here’s the key: Bell’s palsy doesn’t directly involve the brain itself.
    • Affected Muscles: Both upper and lower facial muscles on one side are affected. It’s like the entire face takes a nap.
    • Other Symptoms: Typically, there are no other neurological deficits—just the facial droop.
    • Severity: Scary but usually not serious. Think of it as a minor hiccup in the nerve dance.

2. Stroke:

    • Cause: A stroke is a brain emergency! It happens when blood flow to a part of your brain gets cut off.
    • Symptoms: Beyond facial droop, strokes throw a wild party in your brain. Imagine sudden weakness or paralysis on one side of your body, trouble speaking, and even cognitive hiccups.
    • Affected Muscles: More often, only the lower facial muscles (like the mouth) are affected. The upper face may remain normal.
    • Other Symptoms: Strokes are party crashers—they bring along pals like weakness, numbness, or paralysis in other body parts (arms, legs, speech difficulties, etc.).
    • Severity: Potentially life-threatening. Call the emergency!






Verified by Dr. Petya Stefanova