Holoprosencephaly (HPE) is a common congenital malformation that is characterised by a failure to divide the forebrain into left and right hemispheres and is usually accompanied by defects in patterning of the midline of the face. HPE exists in inherited, autosomal dominant (familial) forms and mutation-associated sporadic forms, but environmental factors are also implicated. There are several features of HPE that are not well understood, including the extremely variable clinical presentation, even among obligate carriers of familial mutations, and the restriction of structural anomalies to the ventral anterior midline, despite association with defects in signal transduction pathways that regulate development of many additional body structures. The new animal models described in this review may help unravel these puzzles. Furthermore, these model systems suggest that human HPE arises from a complex interaction between the timing and strength of developmental signalling pathways, genetic variation and exposure to environmental agents.