With an incidence of approximately 1 in 700 live births, Down syndrome (DS) remains the most common genetic cause of mental retardation. The phenotype is assumed to be due to overexpression of some number of the >300 genes encoded by human chromosome 21. Mouse models, in particular the chromosome 16 segmental trisomies, Ts65Dn and Ts1Cje, are indispensable for DS-related studies of gene-phenotype correlations. Here we compare the updated gene content of the finished sequence of human chromosome 21 (364 genes and putative genes) with the gene content of the homologous mouse genomic regions (291 genes and putative genes) obtained from annotation of the public sector C57Bl/6 draft sequence. Annotated genes fall into one of three classes. First, there are 170 highly conserved, human/mouse orthologues. Second, there are 83 minimally conserved, possible orthologues. Included among the conserved and minimally conserved genes are 31 antisense transcripts. Third, there are species-specific genes: 111 spliced human transcripts show no orthologues in the syntenic mouse regions although 13 have homologous sequences elsewhere in the mouse genomic sequence, and 38 spliced mouse transcripts show no identifiable human orthologues. While these species-specific genes are largely based solely on spliced EST data, a majority can be verified in RNA expression experiments. In addition, preliminary data suggest that many human-specific transcripts may represent a novel class of primate-specific genes. Lastly, updated functional annotation of orthologous genes indicates genes encoding components of several cellular pathways are dispersed throughout the orthologous mouse chromosomal regions and are not completely represented in the Down syndrome segmental mouse models. Together, these data point out the potential for existing mouse models to produce extraneous phenotypes and to fail to produce DS-relevant phenotypes.