Defects in the gene encoding the endothelin-B receptor produce aganglionic megacolon and pigmentary disorders in mice and humans. We report that a targeted disruption of the mouse endothelin-3 ligand (EDN3) gene produces a similar recessive phenotype of megacolon and coat color spotting. A natural recessive mutation that results in the same developmental defects in mice, lethal spotting (ls), failed to complement the targeted EDN3 allele. The ls mice carry a point mutation of the EDN3 gene, which replaces the Arg residue at the C-terminus of the inactive intermediate big EDN3 with a Trp residue. This mutation prevents the proteolytic activation of big EDN3 by ECE-1. These findings indicate that interaction of EDN3 with the endothelin-B receptor is essential in the development of neural crest-derived cell lineages. We postulate that defects in the human EDN3 gene may cause Hirschsprung's disease.