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Rat spinal networks generate a spontaneous rhythmic output directed to motoneurons under conditions of increased excitation or of disinhibition. It is not known whether these differently induced rhythms are produced by a common rhythm generator. To investigate the generation and the propagation of rhythmic activity in spinal networks, recordings need to be made from many neurons simultaneously. Therefore extracellular multisite recording was performed in slice cultures of embryonic rat spinal cords grown on multielectrode arrays. In these organotypic cultures most of the spontaneous neural activity was nearly synchronized. Waves of activity spread from a source to most of the network within 35-85 ms and died out after a further 30-400 ms. Such activity waves induced the contraction of cocultured muscle fibres. Several activity waves could be grouped into aperiodic bursts. Disinhibition with bicuculline and strychnine or increased excitability with high K+ or low Mg2+ solutions could induce periodic bursting with bursts consisting of one or several activity waves. Whilst the duration and period of activity waves were similar for all protocols, the duration and period of bursts were longer during disinhibition than during increased excitation. The sources of bursting activity were mainly situated ventrally on both sides of the central fissure. The pathways of network recruitment from one source were variable between bursts, but they showed on average no systematic differences between the protocols. These spatiotemporal similarities under conditions of increased excitation and of disinhibition suggest a common spinal network for both types of rhythmic activity.