Familial dysautonomia (FD) is a germline autosomal recessive disease that is characterized by impaired peripheral sensory and sympathetic neuron development. The disease is known to be caused by mutations in the gene encoding Elp1 (also known as IKBKAP), but how Elp1 functions in neurons is unclear. Now, Warren Tourtellotte and colleagues investigate the role of Elp1 in mice (p. 2452). The researchers first generate conditional knockout mice in which Elp1 is ablated from the neural crest progenitors that give rise to sympathetic and sensory neurons. They demonstrate that the loss of Elp1 in these progenitors has no effect on their migration, proliferation, cell fate specification or survival. By contrast, target tissue innervation was perturbed following Elp1 ablation in neural crest progenitors, leading to increased apoptosis of post-migratory sympathetic and sensory neurons. Furthermore, they report that the ablation of Elp1 in post-migratory sympathetic neurons disrupts tissue innervation, and this is associated with attenuated axon branching. In line with this, the authors demonstrate that Elp1-depleted sympathetic and sensory neurons exhibit impaired neurite outgrowth and altered tubulin dynamics, suggesting a role for Elp1 in cytoskeletal regulation. These and future studies of this new mouse model for FD offer promising insights into the role of Elp1 in neural development and disease.