Anatomical evidence for the absence of a morphologically distinct cranial root of the accessory nerve in man

Nirusha Lachman, Robert D. Acland, Cornelius Rosse

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30 Scopus citations


The accessory nerve is conventionally described as having a cranial and spinal root. According to standard descriptions the cranial root (or part) is formed by rootlets that emerge from the medulla between the olive and the inferior cerebellar peduncle. These rootlets are considered to join the spinal root, travel with it briefly, then separate within the jugular foramen to become part of the vagus nerve. In 15 fresh specimens we exposed the posterior cranial fossa with a coronal cut through the foramen magnum and explored the course of each posterior medullary rootlet (PMR) arising from within the retro-olivary groove. We chose the caudal end of the olive as the landmark for the caudal end of the medulla. In all specimens every PMR that did not contribute to the glossopharyngeal nerve joined the vagus nerve at the jugular foramen. The distance between the caudal limit of the olive and the origin of the most caudal PMR that contributed to the vagus nerve ranged from 1-21 mm (mean = 8.8 mm). All rootlets that joined the accessory nerve arose caudal to the olive. The distance from the caudal limit of the olive and the most rostral accessory rootlet ranged from 1-15 mm (mean = 5.4 mm). We were unable to demonstrate any connection between the accessory and vagus nerves within the jugular foramen. Our findings indicate that the accessory nerve has no cranial root; it consists only of the structure hitherto referred to as its spinal root. Clin. Anat. 15:4-10, 2002.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-10
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Anatomy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2002


  • Accessory nerve
  • Glossopharyngeal nerve
  • PMR
  • Posterior cranial fossa
  • Vagus nerve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology


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