The optic nerve, also known as cranial nerve II, or simply as CN II, is a paired cranial nerve that transmits visual information from the retina to the brain. In humans, the optic nerve is derived from optic stalks during the seventh week of development and is composed of retinal ganglion cell axons and glial cells; it extends from the optic disc to the optic chiasma and continues as the optic tract to the lateral geniculate nucleus, pretectal nuclei, and superior colliculus.
The optic nerve has been classified as the second of twelve paired cranial nerves but it is technically part of the central nervous system, rather than the peripheral nervous system because it is derived from an out-pouching of the diencephalon (optic stalks) during embryonic development. As a consequence, the fibers of the optic nerve are covered with myelin produced by oligodendrocytes, rather than Schwann cells of the peripheral nervous system, and are encased within the meninges. Peripheral neuropathies like Guillain–Barré syndrome do not affect the optic nerve. However, most typically the optic nerve is grouped with the other eleven cranial nerves and is considered to be part of the peripheral nervous system.
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. Fiber tracts of the mammalian central nervous system have only limited regenerative capabilities compared to the peripheral nervous system. Therefore, in most mammals, optic nerve damage results in irreversible blindness. The fibers from the retina run along the optic nerve to nine primary visual nuclei in the brain, from which a major relay inputs into the primary visual cortex.
The optic nerve transmits all visual information including brightness perception, color perception and contrast (visual acuity). It also conducts the visual impulses that are responsible for two important neurological reflexes: the light reflex and the accommodation reflex. The light reflex refers to the constriction of both pupils that occurs when light is shone into either eye. The accommodation reflex refers to the swelling of the lens of eye that occurs when one looks at a near object (for example, when reading the lens adjusts to near vision.
The eye's blind spot is a result of the absence of photoreceptors in the area of the retina where the optic nerve leaves the eye.
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Journal of optometry : open access