Ultrasound measurement of increased nuchal translucency is a method of risk assessment for heart malformations and trisomy 21 in human pregnancy. The developmental background of this nuchal edema is still not sufficiently understood. We have studied the process in trisomy 16 mice that show nuchal edema and heart malformations. We used trisomy 16 and wild-type (WT) embryos from embryonic day (E) 12.5 to E18.5. In WT embryos at E13, bilateral jugular lymphatic sacs are visible that share a lymphatic–venous membrane with the jugular vein. We could not in any case discern a valve between these vessels. At E14 in the TS16 embryos, the lymphatic sacs become enlarged showing abnormally thickened endothelium, specifically at the site of the membrane. In these embryos, severe edema develops in the nuchal region. There is a very close colocalisation of the nerves with the vascular structures. The start of reorganization of the jugular lymphatic sac to a lymph node is observed in both wild-type and TS16 but is diminished in the latter. In conclusion, abnormal size and structure of the jugular lymphatic sacs coincides with the development of nuchal edema. A disturbance of lymphangiogenesis might be the basis for increased nuchal translucency that is often observed in diseased human fetuses. Developmental Dynamics 230:378–384, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.