The extraocular motor nuclei: organization and functional neuroanatomy

Prog Brain Res. 2006;151:95-125. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(05)51004-5.


The organization of the motoneuron subgroups in the brainstem controlling each extraocular eye muscle is highly stable through the vertebrate species. The subgroups are topographically organized in the oculomotor nucleus (III) and are usually considered to form the final common pathway for eye muscle control. Eye muscles contain a unique type of slow non-twitch, fatigue-resistant muscle fiber, the multiply innervated muscle fibers (MIFs). The recent identification the MIF motoneurons shows that they too have topographic organization, but very different from the classical singly innervated muscle fiber (SIF) motoneurons. The MIF motoneurons lie around the periphery of the oculomotor nucleus (III), trochlear nucleus (IV), and abducens nucleus (VI), slightly separated from the SIF subgroups. The location of four different types of neurons in VI are described and illustrated: (1) SIF motoneurons, (2) MIF motoneurons, (3) internuclear neurons, and (4) the paramedian tract neurons which project to the flocculus. Afferents to the motoneurons arise from the vestibular nuclei, the oculomotor and abducens internuclear neurons, the mesencephalic and pontine burst neurons, the interstitial nucleus of Cajal, nucleus prepositus hypoglossi, the supraoculomotor area and the central mesencephalic reticular formation and the pretectum. The MIF and SIF motoneurons have different histochemical properties and different afferent inputs. The hypothesis that SIFs participate in moving the eye and MIFs determine the alignment seems possible but is not compatible with the concept of a final common pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abducens Nerve / cytology
  • Animals
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interneurons / physiology
  • Interneurons / ultrastructure
  • Mesencephalon / anatomy & histology
  • Mesencephalon / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motor Neurons / classification
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Muscle Fibers, Slow-Twitch / physiology
  • Muscle Fibers, Slow-Twitch / ultrastructure
  • Oculomotor Muscles / innervation*
  • Oculomotor Nerve / cytology
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular
  • Rhombencephalon / anatomy & histology
  • Rhombencephalon / physiology
  • Tensor Tympani / innervation
  • Trochlear Nerve / cytology
  • Vertebrates
  • Vestibular Nerve / physiology
  • Vestibular Nerve / ultrastructure