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ePlasty: Vol. 14
Recognizing an Abnormal Course of the Temporal Division of the Facial Nerve
Sami P. Moubayed, MD,a Daniel A. Barker, MD,b Jeffrey Rawnsley, MD,b Keith E. Blackwell, MD,b and Gregory S. Keller, MDb

aDivision of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada; and bDepartment of Head and Neck Surgery, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, Calif

Correspondence: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Keywords: facial nerve, temporal division, trajectory, fascial relationships, abnormal


A middle-aged woman was undergoing elective rhytidectomy by the senior author using a high superficial musculoaponeurotic (high-SMAS) approach deep plane facelift. After horizontal SMAS division and elevation over the zygomatic arch, the temporal division of the facial nerve was seen crossing the zygomatic arch approximately 1 cm anterior to the tragus with an initial vertical trajectory before coursing anteriorly (Fig 1). The facial nerve emerged posterior to its reported course in the literature and became superficial inferior to what is reported in recent literature articles.

Figure 1. The temporal division of the facial nerve (arrowheads) is seen having an abnormal course over the zygomatic arch (arrows) beneath the elevated skin (a) and SMAS (b).

Injury to the temporal branch of the facial nerve is one of the most undesirable surgical outcomes in the temporal region. Its course is most commonly described as running along Pitanguy's line, although deviations from this trajectory are seldom discussed among clinicians. Moreover, conflicting data have been written about its fascial relationships over the years. Given its vulnerability during extended aging face procedures, as well as surgical approaches to the temporomandibular joint, maxillofacial trauma, or temporal artery biopsy, a thorough understanding of the temporal branch anatomy in terms of trajectory and fascial planes is essential to avoid iatrogenic injury.


1. What is the classic trajectory of the temporal division of the facial nerve?

2. In what instances is this trajectory defined as abnormal?

3. What are the fascial relationships of the temporal branch in the temporal region?

4. What are the clinical correlates of these relationships?


Several anatomical studies have described the trajectory of the temporal division of the facial nerve after its emergence from the parotid.1-5 The most commonly reported course runs along what is termed Pitanguy's line, which was described by Pitanguy and Ramos in 1966,4 and courses between a point 0.5 cm below the tragus and a point 1.5 cm above the lateral eyebrow. The trajectory in our patient significantly deviates from Pitanguy's line.

To understand the normal anatomical variations in its trajectory, multiple dissection studies have dissected the temporal branch of the facial nerve. We have reported a select group of landmark studies in Table 1 describing the course of the temporal branch of the facial nerve in terms of the location of its most posterior branch, as well as its main trajectory. The closest position to the external auditory canal of the temporal branch has been described as being 8 mm, but most descriptions place this position significantly medial to this. In terms of trajectory, the most extensive anatomical study to date on 300 hemifaces reports it as lying between 2 lines: a line passing through the superior tragus and the uppermost forehead crease and a line passing through the inferior tragus and the lowermost forehead crease.5 The aberrant branch that we describe is medial to this point. One or 2 branches are commonly found at the zygomatic arch, although 3 or 4 branching patterns are possible.5

Table 1. Selected anatomical studies describing the trajectory of the temporal branch of the facial nerve
Author Year Hemiface Count Most Posterior Branch Trajectory Abnormal Course
Furnas 1965 115 Crosses superior border of zygoma up to 5 mm posterosuperior on a line perpendicular from hairline Towards the lateral eyebrow >1 cm posterosuperior from intersection of hairline and superior zygoma, and >2 cm above lateral eyebrow
Pitanguy and Ramos 1966 20 Not defined On a line from 0.5 cm below tragus to 1.5 cm above lateral eyebrow (Pitanguy's line) Not defined
Correia and Zani 1973 100 Not defined Pitanguy's line Outside two lines: 1. Superior: earlobe to highest forehead crease 2. Inferior: earlobe to lateral eyebrow
Al-Kayat and Bramley 1979 54 2.0 ± 0.5 cm anterior to external auditory canal over zygomatic arch Not defined Most posterior branch crosses 0.8 to 3.5 cm anterior to external auditory canal
Zani 2003 300 Not defined Courses between two lines: 1. Superior: upper tragus to highest forehead crease 2. Inferior: lower tragus to lowest forehead crease Anything outside the superior and inferior lines

Much has been written on the fascial relationships of the temporal branch of the facial nerve in the temporal region. The most recent high-quality evidence has consistently shown that the temporal branch travels deep and transitions into a sub-SMAS plane before entering the muscles in the frontal region.6 This transition point has been termed the fascial transition zone, which occurs with 95% confidence interval 0.9 to 1.4 cm posterior to the orbital rim, and 1.5 to 3.0 cm above the zygomatic arch.

The mastery of these relationships is essential to surgeons performing common procedures such as temporal artery biopsy, facelift, temporomandibular join surgery, maxillofacial trauma, or pterional neurosurgical approaches, among others. Understanding the normal and abnormal anatomy of the temporal branch of the facial nerve in terms of trajectory and facial layers is essential for the surgeon operating in the temporal region to avoid iatrogenic nerve injury.


1. Al-Kayat A, Bramley P. A modified pre-auricular approach to the temporomandibular joint and malar arch. Br J Oral Surg. 1979;17:91-103.

2. Correia Pde C, Zani R. Surgical anatomy of the facial nerve, as related to ancillary operations in rhytidoplasty. Plast Reconstr Surg. 1973;52:549-52.

3. Furnas DW. Landmarks for the trunk and the temporofacial division of the facial nerve. Br J Surg. 1965;52:694-6.

4. Pitanguy I, Ramos AS. The frontal branch of the facial nerve: the importance of its variations in face lifting. Plastic Reconstr Surg. 1966;38:352-6.

5. Zani R, Fadul R, Jr, Da Rocha MA, Santos RA, Alves MC, Ferreira LM. Facial nerve in rhytidoplasty: anatomic study of its trajectory in the overlying skin and the most common sites of injury. Ann. Plast Surg. 2003;51:236-42.

6. Trussler AP, Stephan P, Hatef D, Schaverien M, Meade R, Barton FE. The frontal branch of the facial nerve across the zygomatic arch: anatomical relevance of the high-SMAS technique. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2010;125:1221-9.

Journal ID: ePlasty Volume: 14
ISSN: 1937-5719 E-location ID: ic21
Publisher: Open Science Company, LLC Published: July 23, 2014

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