Norrie disease (ND) is a severe form of congenital blindness accompanied by mental retardation and/or deafness in at least one third of the patients. This article summarizes advances in the molecular genetic analysis of this disease during the last 13 years, including mapping and cloning of the human gene and the generation and characterization of a mouse model. Genetic linkage studies and physical mapping strategies have assigned the ND locus to the proximal short arm of the human X chromosome. The identification of chromosomal rearrangements in several patients, such as microdeletions, enabled the isolation of the ND gene by a positional cloning approach. Numerous point mutations in this gene have been identified in three distinct clinical entities: (1) ND, (2) familial and sporadic exudative vitreoretinopathy, and (3) retinopathy of prematurity. The gene encodes a relatively small protein, consisting of 133 amino acids. The function of the gene product is yet unknown, although homologies with known proteins and molecular modelling data suggest a role in the regulation of cell interaction or differentiation processes. A mouse model has been generated to shed more light on early pathogenic events involved in ND and allelic disorders. The mouse homologous protein is highly identical (94%) to the human polypeptide. The gene is expressed in the neuronal layers of the mouse retina, the cerebellum and olfactory epithelium. Mutant mice show snowflake-like opacities within the vitreous, dysgenesis of the ganglion cell layer and occasionally degeneration of photoreceptor cells. The mouse phenotype does not include phthisis bulbi and, overall, resembles a mild form of ND. Electrophysiological studies revealed a severely altered electroretinogram b-wave. These results suggest a primary defect in the inner neuronal layers of the retina. Defects in the vitreous and photoreceptor cell layer are most likely secondary effects. Further histological, functional and molecular studies of the mouse model are needed to provide additional information on disease associated pathways.