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Microsurgical anatomy of the abducens nerve



The aim of this study is to demonstrate and review the detailed microsurgical anatomy of the abducens nerve and surrounding structures along its entire course and to provide its topographic measurements. Ten cadaveric heads were examined using ×3 to ×40 magnification after the arteries and veins were injected with colored silicone. Both sides of each cadaveric head were dissected using different skull base approaches to demonstrate the entire course of the abducens nerve from the pontomedullary sulcus to the lateral rectus muscle. The anatomy of the petroclival area and the cavernous sinus through which the abducens nerve passes are complex due to the high density of critically important neural and vascular structures. The abducens nerve has angulations and fixation points along its course that put the nerve at risk in many clinical situations. From a surgical viewpoint, the petrous tubercle of the petrous apex is an intraoperative landmark to avoid damage to the abducens nerve. The abducens nerve is quite different from the other nerves. No other cranial nerve has a long intradural path with angulations and fixations such as the abducens nerve in petroclival venous confluence. A precise knowledge of the relationship between the abducens nerve and surrounding structures has allowed neurosurgeon to approach the clivus, petroclival area, cavernous sinus, and superior orbital fissure without surgical complications. Clin. Anat. 25:1030–1042, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.