The Names, Functions, and Locations of Cranial Nerves

Anatomy of the Brain

Cranial Nerves
The human cranial nerves and their areas of innervation. (Larger Image). Encyclopedia Britannica/UIG/Getty Images

The cranial nerves are nerves that arise from the brain and exit the skull through holes (cranial foramina) at its base rather than through the spinal cord. Peripheral nervous system connections with various organs and structures of the body are established through cranial nerves and spinal nerves. While some cranial nerves contain only sensory neurons, most cranial nerves and all spinal nerves contain both motor and sensory neurons.


Cranial nerves are responsible for the control of a number of functions in the body. Some of these functions include directing sense and motor impulses, equilibrium control, eye movement and vision, hearing, respiration, swallowing, smelling, facial sensation, and tasting. The names and major functions of these nerves are listed below.

  1. Olfactory Nerve: Sense of smell
  2. Optic Nerve: Vision
  3. Oculomotor Nerve: Eyeball and eyelid movement
  4. Trochlear Nerve: Eye movement
  5. Trigeminal Nerve: This is the largest cranial nerve and is divided into three branches consisting of the ophthalmic, maxillary and mandibular nerves. Functions controlled include facial sensation and chewing.
  6. Abducent Nerve: Eye movement
  7. Facial Nerve: Facial expressions and sense of taste
  8. Vestibulocochlear Nerve: Equilibrium and hearing
  9. Glossopharyngeal Nerve: Swallowing, sense of taste, and saliva secretion
  10. Vagus Nerve: Smooth muscle sensory and motor control in throat, lungs, heart, and digestive system
  11. Accessory Nerve: Movement of neck and shoulders
  12. Hypoglossal Nerve: Movement of tongue, swallowing, and speech


The cranial nerves consist of 12 paired nerves that arise from the brainstem. The olfactory and optic nerves arise from the anterior portion of the brain called the cerebrum. The oculomotor and trochlear cranial nerves stem from the midbrain. The trigeminal, abducent, and facial nerves arise in the pons. The vestibulocochlear nerve arises in the inner ears and goes to the pons. The glossopharyngeal, vagus, accessory and hypoglossal nerves are attached to the medulla oblongata.