Innervation of human soft palate muscles

Liancai Mu, Jingming Chen, Jing Li, Mary Fowkes, Brian Benson, Themba Nyirenda, Stanislaw Sobotka, Mark Christopherson, Ira Sanders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Our objective was to determine the branching and distribution of the motor nerves supplying the human soft palate muscles. Six adult specimens of the soft palate in continuity with the pharynx, larynx, and tongue were processed with Sihler's stain, a technique that can render large specimens transparent while counterstaining their nerves. The cranial nerves were identified and dissection followed their branches as they divided into smaller divisions toward their terminations in individual muscles. The results showed that both the glossopharyngeal (IX) and vagus (X) nerves have three distinct branches, superior, middle, and inferior. Only the middle branches of each nerve contributed to the pharyngeal plexus to which the facial nerve also contributed. The pharyngeal plexus was divided into two parts, a superior innervating the palatal and neighboring muscles and an inferior innervating pharyngeal constrictors. The superior branches of the IX and X nerves contributed innervation to the palatoglossus, whereas their middle branches innervated the palatopharyngeus. The palatoglossus and palatopharyngeus muscles appeared to be composed of at least two neuromuscular compartments. The lesser palatine nerve not only supplied the palatal mucosa and palatine glandular tissue but also innervated the musculus uvulae, palatopharyngeus, and levator veli palatine. The latter muscle also received its innervation from the superior branch of X nerve. The findings would be useful for better understanding the neural control of the soft palate and for developing novel neuromodulation therapies to treat certain upper airway disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnatomical Record
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Sihler's stain
  • glossopharyngeal nerve
  • innervation
  • palatal muscles
  • soft palate
  • vagus nerve


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