Mutations in genes encoding sarcomeric proteins cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). The sarcomeric protein actin plays a central, dual role in cardiac myocytes, generating contractile force by interacting with myosin and also transmitting force within and between cells. Two missense mutations in the cardiac actin gene (ACTC), postulated to impair force transmission, have been associated with familial dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Recently, a missense mutation in ACTC was found to cosegregate with familial HCM. To further test the hypothesis that mutations within functionally distinct domains of ACTC cause either DCM or HCM, we performed mutational analyses in 368 unrelated patients with familial or sporadic HCM. Single strand conformation polymorphism and sequence analyses of genomic DNA were performed. De novo mutations in ACTC were identified in two patients with sporadic HCM who presented with syncope in early childhood. Patients were heterozygous for missense mutations resulting in Pro164Ala and Ala331Pro amino acid substitutions, adjacent to regions of actin-actin and actin-myosin interaction, respectively. A mutation that cosegregated with familial HCM was also found, causing a Glu99Lys substitution in a weak actomyosin binding domain. The cardiac phenotype in many affected patients was characterized by an apical form of HCM. These findings support the hypothesis that a single amino acid substitution in actin causes either congestive heart failure or maladaptive cardiac hypertrophy, depending on its effect on actin structure and function.