The rat is quite immature at birth and a rapid maturation of motor behavior takes place during the first 2 postnatal weeks. Lumbar motoneurons undergo a rapid development during this period. The last week before birth represents the initial stages of motoneuron differentiation, including regulation of the number of cells and the arrival of segmental and first supraspinal afferents. At birth, motoneurons are electrically coupled and receive both appropriate and inappropriate connections from the periphery; the control from supraspinal structures is weak and exerted mainly through polysynaptic connections. During the 1st postnatal week, inappropriate sensori-motor contacts and electrical coupling disappear, the supraspinal control increases gradually and myelin formation is responsible for an increased conduction velocity in both descending and motor axons. Both N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and non-NMDA receptors are transiently overexpressed in the neonatal spinal cord. The contribution of non-NMDA receptors to excitatory amino acid transmission increases with age. Activation of gamma-aminobutyric acid(A) and glycine receptors leads to membrane depolarization in embryonic motoneurons but to hyperpolarization in older motoneurons. The firing properties of motoneurons change with development: they are capable of more repetitive firing at the end of the 1st postnatal week than before birth. However, maturation does not proceed simultaneously in the motor pools innervating antagonistic muscles; for instance, the development of repetitive firing of ankle extensor motoneurons lags behind that of flexor motoneurons. The spontaneous embryonic and neonatal network-driven activity, detected at the levels of motoneurons and primary afferent terminals, may play a role in neuronal maturation and in the formation and refinement of sensorimotor connections.