Anatomy & Physiology Nervous #12


Which cranial nerve transmits the sense of smell?


  1. Optic nerve
    • Rationale:

      The optic nerve is a sensory nerve that transmits visual information from the retina to the brain. It does not transmit the sense of smell.

  2. Vagus nerve
    • Rationale:

      The vagus nerve is both a sensory and a motor nerve that controls parts of the digestive and respiratory systems such as the pharynx and swallowing. It does not, however, transmit the sense of smell.

  3. Olfactory nerve
    • Rationale:

      The olfactory nerve is typically considered the first cranial nerve (i.e., CN I). It contains sensory nerve fibers responsible for the sense of smell.

  4. Oculomotor nerve
    • Rationale:

      The oculomotor nerve is a motor cranial nerve that enables most movements of the eye and that raise the eyelid. It does not, however, transmit the sense of smell.


Cranial nerves arise from the brain, not the spinal cord, and pass through separate openings in the skull.


Learning Outcomes

There are 12 pairs of cranial nerves. Some function as sensory nerves while others function as motor nerves; there are some cranial nerves that serve both functions. The olfactory nerve is a sensory cranial nerve that transmits the sense of smell.

Test Taking Tip

Use one of the many cranial nerve mnemonics to remember their names and their functions.

Video Rationale