This paper, written for the symposium in honour of more than 40 years' contribution to autonomic research by Professor Geoffrey Burnstock, highlights the progress made in understanding the organisation of the enteric nervous system over this time. Forty years ago, the prevailing view was that the neurons within the gut wall were post-ganglionic neurons of parasympathetic pathways. This view was replaced as evidence accrued that the neurons are part of the enteric nervous system and are involved in reflex and integrative activities that can occur even in the absence of neuronal influence from extrinsic sources. Work in Burnstock's laboratory led to the discovery of intrinsic inhibitory neurons with then novel pharmacology of transmission, and precipitated investigation of neuron types in the enteric nervous system. All the types of neurons in the enteric nervous system of the small intestine of the guinea-pig have now been identified in terms of their morphologies, projections, primary neurotransmitters and physiological identification. In this region there are 14 functionally defined neuron types, each with a characteristic combination of morphological, neurochemical and biophysical properties. The nerve circuits underlying effects on motility, blood flow and secretion that are mediated through the enteric nervous system are constructed from these neurons. The circuits for simple motility reflexes are now known, and progress has been made in analysing those involved in local control of blood flow and transmucosal fluid movement in the small intestine.