Ophthalmic nerve

The ophthalmic nerve (V1) is a sensory nerve of the face. It is one of three divisions of the trigeminal nerve (CN V). It has three branches that provide sensory innervation to the eye, the skin of the upper face, and the skin of the anterior scalp.

Ophthalmic nerve
Oblique section through the cavernous sinus.
Nerves of the orbit, and the ciliary ganglion. Side view.
Fromtrigeminal nerve
Tofrontal nerve, lacrimal nerve, nasociliary nerve
Latinn. ophthalmicus
Anatomical terms of neuroanatomy


The ophthalmic nerve is the first branch of the trigeminal nerve (CN V).[1] It is joined by filaments from the cavernous plexus of the sympathetic, and communicates with the oculomotor, trochlear, and abducent nerves. It gives off a recurrent (meningeal) filament which passes between the layers of the tentorium.


The ophthalmic nerve divides into three major branches as it passes through the superior orbital fissure.[1]


The ophthalmic nerve supplies branches to the cornea, ciliary body, and iris; to the lacrimal gland and conjunctiva; to the part of the mucous membrane of the nasal cavity; and to the skin of the eyelids, eyebrow, forehead and nose.

It is the smallest of the three divisions of the trigeminal, and arises from the upper part of the trigeminal ganglion as a short, flattened band, about 2.5 cm. long, which passes forward along the lateral wall of the cavernous sinus, below the oculomotor and trochlear nerves; just before entering the orbit, through the superior orbital fissure, it divides into three branches, lacrimal, frontal, and nasociliary.

It carries sensory branches from the eyes, conjunctiva, lacrimal gland, nasal cavity, frontal sinus, ethmoidal cells, falx cerebri, dura mater in the anterior cranial fossa, superior parts of the tentorium cerebelli, upper eyelid, dorsum of the nose, and anterior part of the scalp.

Roughly speaking, the ophthalmic nerve supplies general somatic afferents to the upper face, skull, and eye:

  • Face: Upper eyelid and associated conjunctiva. Eyebrow, forehead, scalp all the way to the lambdoid suture.
  • Skull: Roof of orbit, frontal, ethmoid, and possibly sphenoid sinuses.
  • Eye: The eye itself (all the intraocular structures such as cornea) and the lacrimal gland and sac.

Compare this to the maxillary nerve, which supplies general somatic afferents to the mid-face and skull:

  • Face: Lower eyelid and associated conjunctiva. Cheek, upper lip.
  • Skull: Orbital floor, maxillary sinus, upper teeth, nasal cavity, and palate, cheekbone.

Clinical significanceEdit

Damage to the ophthalmic nerve can cause loss of sensation of the structures it supplies in the face.[2] The corneal reflex may be lost, which can increase the risk of damage to the cornea.[2]

Additional imagesEdit


  This article incorporates text in the public domain from page 887 of the 20th edition of Gray's Anatomy (1918)

  1. ^ a b c d e Spiriev, Toma Y.; Chowdhury, Tumul; Schaller, Bernhard J. (2015). "2 - The Trigeminal Nerve: Anatomical Pathways. Trigeminocardiac Reflex Trigger Points". Trigeminocardiac Reflex. Academic Press. pp. 9–35. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-800421-0.00002-3. ISBN 978-0-12-800421-0.
  2. ^ a b Lin, Frank R.; Niparko, John K. (2009). "52 - Complications of Lateral Skull-Base Surgery". Complications in Head and Neck Surgery (2nd ed.). Mosby. pp. 689–701. doi:10.1016/B978-141604220-4.50056-0. ISBN 978-1-4160-4220-4.

External linksEdit