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Eur J Radiol. 2010 May;74(2):368-77. doi: 10.1016/j.ejrad.2009.08.028. Epub 2010 Mar 29.

Imaging the hypoglossal nerve.

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Department of Radiology, Centro Hospitalar de Lisboa Central-Hospital de São José, Rua José António Serrano, 1150-199 Lisboa Codex, Portugal.


The hypoglossal nerve is a pure motor nerve. It provides motor control to the intrinsic and extrinsic tongue muscles thus being essential for normal tongue movement and coordination. In order to design a useful imaging approach and a working differential diagnosis in cases of hypoglossal nerve damage one has to have a good knowledge of the normal anatomy of the nerve trunk and its main branches. A successful imaging evaluation to hypoglossal diseases always requires high resolution studies due to the small size of the structures being studied. MRI is the preferred modality to directly visualize the nerve, while CT is superior in displaying the bony anatomy of the neurovascular foramina of the skull base. Also, while CT is only able to detect nerve pathology by indirect signs, such as bony expansion of the hypoglossal canal, MRI is able to visualize directly the causative pathological process as in the case of small tumors, or infectious/inflammatory processes affecting the nerve. The easiest way to approach the study of the hypoglossal nerve is to divide it in its main segments: intra-axial, cisternal, skull base and extracranial segment, tailoring the imaging technique to each anatomical area while bearing in mind the main disease entities affecting each segment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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