The nervous system generates behaviours through the activity in groups of neurons assembled into networks. Understanding these networks is thus essential to our understanding of nervous system function.
Understanding a network requires information on its component cells, their interactions and their functional properties. Few networks come close to providing complete information on these aspects. However, even if complete information were available it would still only provide limited insight into network function. This is because the functional and structural properties of a network are not fixed but are plastic and can change over time. The number of interacting network components, their (variable) functional properties, and various plasticity mechanisms endows networks with considerable flexibility, but these features inevitably complicate network analyses.
This review will initially discuss the general approaches and problems of network analyses. It will then examine the success of these analyses in a model spinal cord locomotor network in the lamprey, to determine to what extent in this relatively simple vertebrate system it is possible to claim detailed understanding of network function and plasticity.
- Received February 28, 2005.
- Accepted October 11, 2005.
- © 2005 The Royal Society