Cranial roots of the accessory nerve exist in the majority of adult humans

R. Shane Tubbs, Brion Benninger, Marios Loukas, Aaron A. Cohen-Gadol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Scopus citations


The inclusion of a cranial root as a component of the accessory nerve is controversial with at least one recent study claiming that intracranial rootlets do not exist in humans. In response to this debate, the present study aimed to clarify this anatomy in a large cadaveric sample. In this study, 43 adult cadavers (86 sides) were dissected via a posterior approach to the craniocervical junction. Observations were made for the presence or absence of cranial roots of the accessory nerve, and when present, their lengths and diameters were measured. Relationships of these rootlets were documented. A cranial root of the accessory nerve was identified in 76% of sides. When identified, 1-6 cranial rootlets (mean 4.5) of the accessory nerve were observed. They ranged in diameter from 0.1 to 1.1 mm (mean 0.7 mm). The length of these nerves ranged from 8 to 24 mm with a mean of 17 mm. In general, the more superior rootlets were shorter and the more inferior rootlets were longer. Although there was a slight tendency for the cranial roots to be more numerous and larger on right sides and in males, this did not reach statistical significance. We believe this to be the largest study to date documenting the presence of a cranial root of the accessory nerve. Based on our findings, a cranial root exists in the majority of specimens. Neurosurgical procedures or high quality imaging of this area should enable the physician to see these structures. Clin. Anat. 27:102-107, 2014. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-107
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Anatomy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • anatomy
  • cranial nerve
  • neurosurgery
  • skull base
  • spinal accessory nerve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology

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