Optic nerve

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The optic nerve, also called cranial nerve II, transmits visual information from the retina to the brain.

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Anatomy

The optic nerve is the second of twelve paired cranial nerves but is considered to be part of the central nervous system as it is derived from an outpouching of the diencephalon during embryonic development. Consequently, the fibres are covered with myelin produced by oligodendrocytes rather than the Schwann cells of the peripheral nervous system and are encased within the meninges. Therefore the distinction of nerve is technically a misnomer, as the optic system lies within the central nervous system and nerves exist, by definition, within the peripheral nervous system. Therefore peripheral neuropathies like Guillain-Barré syndrome do not affect the optic nerve.

The optic nerve is ensheathed in all three meningeal layers (dura, arachnoid, and pia mater) rather than the epineurium, perineurium, and endoneurium found in peripheral nerves. Fibre tracks of the mammalian central nervous system (as opposed to the peripheral nervous system) are incapable of regeneration and hence optic nerve damage produces irreversible blindness. The fibres from the retina run along the optic nerve to nine primary visual nuclei in the brain, whence a major relay inputs into the primary visual cortex.

The optic nerve is composed of retinal ganglion cell axons and support cells. It leaves the orbit (eye) via the optic canal, running postero-medially towards the optic chiasm where there is a partial decussation (crossing) of fibres from the temporal visual fields of both eyes. Most of the axons of the optic nerve terminate in the lateral geniculate nucleus from where information is relayed to the visual cortex, while other axons terminate in the pretectal nucleus and are involved in reflexive eye movements and other axons terminate in the suprachiasmatic nucleus and are involved in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Its diameter increases from about 1.6 mm within the eye, to 3.5 mm in the orbit to 4.5 mm within the cranial space. The optic nerve component lengths are 1 mm in the globe, 24 mm in the orbit, 9 mm in the optic canal and 16 mm in the cranial space before joining the optic chiasm. There, partial decussation occurs and about 53% of the fibers cross to form the optic tracts. Most of these fibres terminate in the lateral geniculate body.

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