The mesencephalic dopaminergic system is involved in the control of multiple brain functions including movement control and emotion and is of clinical importance because it is implicated in several psychiatric disorders, of which many are considered to have a neurodevelopmental origin. Studies into the developmental pathways of these neurons have led to the identification of the transcription factors En1, Pitx3, Nurr1 and Lmx1b, all shown to be important for the development of the mesencephalic dopaminergic system. In this paper, we discuss the consequences of genetic ablation of essential developmental genes. Furthermore, we discuss the consequences of changes in dopamine homeostasis for the function of the mesencephalic dopaminergic system. Finally, we analyse the potential of the mesencephalic dopaminergic system to adapt to gene dysfunction.