Interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) are the pacemakers in gastrointestinal (GI) muscles, and these cells also mediate or transduce inputs from the enteric nervous system. Different classes of ICC are involved in pacemaking and neurotransmission. ICC express specific ionic conductances that make them unique in their ability to generate and propagate slow waves in GI muscles or transduce neural inputs. Much of what we know about the function of ICC comes from developmental studies that were made possible by the discoveries that ICC express c-kit and proper development of ICC depends upon signalling via the Kit receptor pathway. Manipulating Kit signalling with reagents to block the receptor or downstream signalling pathways or by using mutant mice in which Kit or its ligand, stem cell factor, are defective has allowed novel studies into the specific functions of the different classes of ICC in several regions of the GI tract. Kit is also a surface antigen that can be used to conveniently label ICC in GI muscles. Immunohistochemical studies using Kit antibodies have expanded our knowledge about the ICC phenotype, the structure of ICC networks, the interactions of ICC with other cells in the gut wall, and the loss of ICC in some clinical disorders. Preparations made devoid of ICC have also allowed analysis of the consequences of losing specific classes of ICC on GI motility. This review describes recent advances in our knowledge about the development and plasticity of ICC and how developmental studies have contributed to our understanding of the functions of ICC. We have reviewed the clinical literature and discussed how loss or defects in ICC affect GI motor function.