Reconstruction of a severed mammalian spinal cord with restoration of function has so far not been achieved, although structural and functional restitution after spinal transection has been successful in some lower vertebrates. In quail-chick and chick-chick chimaeras, spinal cord segments were found to be functional after replacement by isotopic and isochronic grafting of the neural tube. Here we achieve such a replacement in neonatal rats under less restricted topological and temporal conditions than were necessary for the avian chimaeras. The replaced segments united with the host spinal cord and promoted robust growth and regrowth of axons across the graft, enabling neural connections to be reconstructed that were hardly distinguishable from normal. The animals with replaced segments could walk, run and climb with almost normal hind-forelimb coordination. This functional restoration in these animals appeared to be permanent, raising the possibility of therapeutic application in humans.