Among human birth defect syndromes, malformations affecting the face are perhaps the most striking due to cultural and psychological expectations of facial shape. One such syndrome is auriculocondylar syndrome (ACS), in which patients present with defects in ear and mandible development. Affected structures arise from cranial neural crest cells, a population of cells in the embryo that reside in the pharyngeal arches and give rise to most of the bone, cartilage and connective tissue of the face. Recent studies have found that most cases of ACS arise from defects in signaling molecules associated with the endothelin signaling pathway. Disruption of this signaling pathway in both mouse and zebrafish results in loss of identity of neural crest cells of the mandibular portion of the first pharyngeal arch and the subsequent repatterning of these cells, leading to homeosis of lower jaw structures into more maxillary-like structures. These findings illustrate the importance of endothelin signaling in normal human craniofacial development and illustrate how clinical and basic science approaches can coalesce to improve our understanding of the genetic basis of human birth defect syndromes. Further, understanding the genetic basis for ACS that lies outside of known endothelin signaling components may help elucidate unknown aspects critical to the establishment of neural crest cell patterning during facial morphogenesis. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.