Familial Dysautonomia (FD) is an autosomal recessive disorder that affects 1/3,600 live births in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, and leads to death before the age of 40. The disease is characterized by abnormal development and progressive degeneration of the sensory and autonomic nervous system. A single base pair substitution in intron 20 of the Ikbkap gene accounts for 98% of FD cases, and results in the expression of low levels of the full-length mRNA with simultaneous expression of an aberrantly spliced mRNA in which exon 20 is missing. To date, there is no animal model for the disease, and the essential cellular functions of IKAP - the protein encoded by Ikbkap - remain unknown. To better understand the normal function of IKAP and in an effort to generate a mouse model for FD, we have targeted the mouse Ikbkap gene by homologous recombination. We created two distinct alleles that result in either loss of Ikbkap expression, or expression of an mRNA lacking only exon 20. Homozygosity for either mutation leads to developmental delay, cardiovascular and brain malformations, accompanied with early embryonic lethality. Our analyses indicate that IKAP is essential for expression of specific genes involved in cardiac morphogenesis, and that cardiac failure is the likely cause of abnormal vascular development and embryonic lethality. Our results also indicate that deletion of exon 20 abolishes gene function. This implies that the truncated IKAP protein expressed in FD patients does not retain any significant biological function.