A core structural and functional motif of the vertebrate central nervous system is discrete clusters of neurons or 'nuclei'. Yet the developmental mechanisms underlying this fundamental mode of organisation are largely unknown. We have previously shown that the assembly of motor neurons into nuclei depends on cadherin-mediated adhesion. Here, we demonstrate that the emergence of mature topography among motor nuclei involves a novel interplay between spontaneous activity, cadherin expression and gap junction communication. We report that nuclei display spontaneous calcium transients, and that changes in the activity patterns coincide with the course of nucleogenesis. We also find that these activity patterns are disrupted by manipulating cadherin or gap junction expression. Furthermore, inhibition of activity disrupts nucleogenesis, suggesting that activity feeds back to maintain integrity among motor neurons within a nucleus. Our study suggests that a network of interactions between cadherins, gap junctions and spontaneous activity governs neuron assembly, presaging circuit formation.