The Marburg Cardiomyopathy Study (MACAS) is a prospective observational study designed to determine the value of the following potential non-invasive arrhythmia risk predictors in more than 200 patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy (IDC) over a 5-year follow-up period: New York Heart Association functional class, left ventricular end-diastolic diameter and ejection fraction, left bundle branch block and atrial fibrillation on ECG, QTc and JTc-dispersion on 12-lead ECG, abnormal time-domain analysis and spectral turbulence analysis of the signal-averaged ECG, ventricular arrhythmias and heart-rate variability on 24-hour Holter ECG, baroreflex sensitivity, and microvolt T wave alternans during exercise. This report describes the rationale of MACAS as well as the clinical characteristics of the first 236 patients enrolled between March 1996 and October 1999. The prognostic significance of the potential arrhythmia risk predictors in MACAS will be determined by multivariate Cox analysis at the end of 5-year follow-up. Primary endpoints are total mortality and major arrhythmic events defined as sustained ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation or sudden cardiac death. The results of MACAS will have important implications for the design of future studies evaluating the role of prophylactic defibrillator therapy in idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.