Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) are antiretrovirals for AIDS with limiting mitochondrial side effects. The mitochondrial deoxynucleotide carrier (DNC) transports phosphorylated nucleosides for mitochondrial DNA replication and can transport phosphorylated NRTIs into mitochondria. Transgenic mice (TG) that exclusively overexpress DNC in the heart tested DNC's role in mitochondrial dysfunction from NRTIs. Two TG lines were created that overexpressed the human DNC gene in murine myocardium. Cardiac and mitochondrial structure and function were examined by magnetic resonance imaging, echocardiography, electrocardiography, transmission electron microscopy, and plasma lactate. Antiretroviral combinations (HAART) that contained NRTIs (stavudine (2', 3'-didehydro-2', 3'-deoxythymidine or d4T)/lamivudine/indinavir; or zidovudine (3' azido-3'-deoxythymidine or AZT)/lamivudine/indinavir; 35 days) were administered to simulate AIDS therapy. In parallel, a HAART combination without NRTIs (nevirapine/efavirenz/indinavir; 35 days) served as an NRTI-sparing, control regimen. Untreated DNC TGs exhibited normal cardiac function but abnormal mitochondrial ultrastructure. HAART that contained NRTIs caused cardiomyopathy in TGs with increased left ventricle mass and volume, heart rate variability, and worse mitochondrial ultrastructural defects. In contrast, treatment with an NRTI-sparing HAART regimen caused no cardiac changes. Data suggest the DNC is integral to mitochondrial homeostasis in vivo and may relate mechanistically to mitochondrial dysfunction in patients treated with HAART regimens that contain NRTIs.