Cells of Origin of the Branches of the Facial Nerve: A Retrograde HRP Study in the Rabbit

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The origin of different branches of the facial nerve in the rabbit was determined by using retrograde transport of HRP. Either the proximal stump of specific nerves was exposed to HRP after transection, or an injection of the tracer was made into particular muscles innervated by a branch of the facial nerve. A clear somatotopic pattern was observed. Those branches which innervate the rostral facial musculature arise from cells located in the lateral and intermediate portions of the nuclear complex. Orbital musculature is supplied by neurons in the dorsal portion of the complex, with the more rostral orbital muscles receiving input from more laterally located cells while the caudal orbital region receives innervation from more medial regions of the dorsal facial nucleus. The rostral portion of the ear also receives innervation from cells located in the dorsomedial part of the nucleus, but the caudal aspect of the ear is supplied exclusively by cells located in medial regions. The cervical platysma, the platysma of the lower jaw, and the deep muscles (i.e., digastric and stylohyoid) receive input from cells topographically arranged in the middle and ventral portions of the nuclear complex. It is proposed that the topographic relationship between the facial nucleus and branches of the facial nerve reflects the embryological derivation of the facial muscles. Those muscles that develop from the embryonic sphincter colli profundus layer are innervated by lateral and dorsomedial portions of the nuclear complex. The muscles derived from the embryonic platysma layer, including the deep musculature, receive their input from mid to ventral regions of the nuclear complex.