It is usually assumed that, after construction of basic network architecture in embryos, immature networks undergo progressive maturation to acquire their adult properties. We examine this assumption in the context of the lobster stomatogastric nervous system. In the lobster, the neuronal population that will form this system is at first orgnanized into a single embryonic network that generates a single rhythmic pattern. The system then splits into different functional adult networks controlled by central descending systems; these adult networks produce multiple motor programmes, distinctively different from the single output of the embryonic network. We show here that the single embryonic network can produce multiple adult-like programmes. This occurs after the embryonic network is silenced by removal of central inputs, then pharmacologically stimulated to restore rhythmicity. Furthermore, restoration of the flow of descending information reversed the adult-like pattern to an embryonic pattern. This indicates that the embryonic network possesses the ability to express adult-like network characteristics, but descending information prevents it from doing so. Functional adult networks may therefore not necessarily be derived from progressive ontogenetic changes in networks themselves, but may result from maturation of descending systems that unmask preexisting adult networks in an embryonic system.