Two hundred fifteen patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) participated in a prospective longitudinal study of HIV-related heart disease. Evaluation included signal-averaged electrocardiography and echocardiography. Fifteen patients underwent endomyocardial biopsy, 5 had cardiovascular symptoms and 10 did not. Cardiac myocytes or dendritic cells were prepared by individual cell microdissection to sort them from other cell types such as interstitial cells or circulating blood elements. HIV proviral sequences were amplified in samples of 15 to 20 cells of each type by multiplex, nested, polymerase chain reaction and hybridized to 32P-labeled probes specific for regions within the gag and pol genes of HIV-1. The results showed the presence of HIV sequences in myocytes of 2 of 5 patients with cardiac symptoms and in 6 of 10 without. Thus, symptomatic HIV cardiomyopathy did not appear to be a direct consequence of the virus on myocardial cells. In dendritic cells, HIV sequences were detected in 5 of 5 patients with cardiac symptoms and in 8 of 10 with apparently normal ventricular function. Furthermore, dendritic cells were somewhat more numerous in the myocardium of symptomatic than asymptomatic patients. Our studies are the first to directly detect the HIV genome in purified cardiac myocytes from patients with and without cardiac dysfunction. Our findings do not support a direct role of the virus in myocardial dysfunction. However, the results do suggest that the interstitial dendritic cells may be involved in some manner in the development of cardiac dysfunction observed in HIV-infected patients.