How to Learn the Branches of the Trigeminal Nerve with a Memory Palace

I got a question recently about how to remember the different branches of cranial nerve #5, the trigeminal nerve (shown at right). I thought I'd share my response here for any others interested.* It's a beast of a nerve and no doubt gives most medical students headaches. I do, however, think memory palaces work really well for this type of thing. Let's get into it!

Looking at the picture, my approach would be to use one room per nerve, i.e. one for ophthalmic, one for maxillary, and one for mandibular, so 3 in total. I'd come up with images for each nerve: for instance, Godzilla for maxilla (maybe making him "rotund" to remember that it exits through the foramen rotundum, which is unmarked), etc. I'd place each of those images at the door to each room (I might even leave out this step, since each room quickly begins to "feel" like its corresponding nerve, so the images become obsolete). Especially when I have pictures like this one, I like to match up the physical look of my palace with the picture, so that I'm always thinking of the picture simultaneously as I move through the palace. For instance, and I'll continue with the maxillary nerve as an example, I enter the room, finding a pterodactyl (pterygopalatine ganglion) flapping on a locus to my left. So I'm envisioning the nerve as if I were a little person walking along it from the foramen rotundum. Then at locus #2, maybe I bump into a fizzing drink with Saturn in it (inferior orbital fissure, unmarked). After pushing past that, I find the floor beneath me has turned into a giant Saturn ring (infraorbital nerve). For an extra hook I imagine the rings are spinning and I start to move through the room like I'm on a conveyor belt. Again I look to my left and see Alvin the chipmunk on top of the window there (superior alveolar nerve).

And it would just continue like that for everything else.* Again, my key point is that I like to keep everything as physically similar to the picture as possible, so I can hold both in my mind simultaneously. Drop a comment below if you have any questions or alternative ways of remembering CN V!

*For a complete neuroanatomy example, check out this video in which Alex discusses his memory palace for remembering the structure and function of the entire facial nerve (CN VII).


New to memory palaces? Start with our Basics video series. For the more intermediate learner, our top three tips for applying memory palaces to learning can be found here