Spinal interneurons are organized into networks that control the activity and output of the motor system. This review outlines recent progress in defining the rules that govern the assembly and function of spinal motor networks, focusing on three main areas. We first examine how subtle variations in the wiring diagrams and organization of locomotor networks in different vertebrates permits animals to adapt their motor programs to the demands of their physical environment. We discuss how the membrane properties of spinal interneurons, and their synaptic interactions, underlie the modulation of motor circuits and encoded motor behaviors. We also describe recent molecular genetic approaches to map and manipulate the connectivity and interactions of spinal interneurons and to assess the impact of such perturbations on network function and motor behavior.
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