The abducens nerve is also known as the abducent or sixth cranial nerve (CN6). It controls the eye's lateral rectus muscle. Where the pons and the medulla meet, CN6 departs from the brainstem and runs a course medial to the facial nerve. CN6 passes through the subarachnoid space, cavernous sinus and, eventually, the superior orbital fissure. By innervating the lateral rectus, CN6 helps pull the eye's pupil away from the body's midline. This nerve is susceptible to a number of clinical conditions. If the abducens nerve is interrupted, double vision can result. The eye ends up pulled in a medial direction because the medial rectus muscle works without opposition. Damage to the abducens nerve can result from anything that stretches or compresses it, such as from the growth of tumors or blood vessels that bulge into aneurysms. Meningitis infections could also develop and damage the nerve. Of all the possible conditions, diabetic neuropathy, related to prolonged issues with blood sugar, remains the most frequently occurring.
Written and medically reviewed by the Healthline Editorial Team
In Depth: Abducent nerve