Superior olivary nucleus

Last revised by Elmira Hassanzadeh on 12 Jun 2021

The superior olivary nuclei (or complex, SOC) are a group of nuclei within the pons contributing to the ascending and descending auditory pathways.

Gross anatomy

The superior olivary nuclei are located in the pons, while the inferior olivary nuclei are located in the medulla. It is generally situated caudally near the facial nucleus, in the tegmentum of the caudal pons. At the level of the pontomedullary junction, it is lateral in the reticular formation.


The superior olivary complex contains two main nuclei: the medial superior olive (MSO) and the lateral superior olive (LSO).

The MSO has a larger number of neurons than the LSO, and is thought to play a more prominent role in human hearing. 

The superior olivary nuclei contain binaural neurons that respond to input from the inner ears. The trapezoid bodies amplify the left-right difference of sounds from the cochlear nuclei before the signals reach the superior olivary complex. The superior olivary nuclei may localize sound on the horizontal plane based on binaural differences in timing and intensity of sound. However, detailed functional aspects of these groups are still under investigation.

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: interconnection of cranial nerve nuclei (Gray's illustration)
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  • Ascending auditory pathway (annotated MRI)
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