The R403Q mutation in the beta-myosin heavy chain (MHC) was the first mutation to be linked to familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (FHC), a primary disease of heart muscle. The initial studies with R403Q myosin, isolated from biopsies of patients, showed a large decrease in myosin motor function, leading to the hypothesis that hypertrophy was a compensatory response. The introduction of the mouse model for FHC (the mouse expresses predominantly alpha-MHC as opposed to the beta-isoform in larger mammals) created a new paradigm for FHC based on finding enhanced motor function for R403Q alpha-MHC. To help resolve these conflicting mechanisms, we used a transgenic mouse model in which the endogenous alpha-MHC was largely replaced with transgenically encoded beta-MHC. A His(6) tag was cloned at the N terminus of the alpha-and beta-MHC to facilitate protein isolation by Ni(2+)-chelating chromatography. Characterization of the R403Q alpha-MHC by the in vitro motility assay showed a 30-40% increase in actin filament velocity compared with wild type, consistent with published studies. In contrast, the R403Q mutation in a beta-MHC backbone showed no enhancement in velocity. Cleavage of the His-tagged myosin by chymotrypsin made it possible to isolate homogeneous myosin subfragment 1 (S1), uncontaminated by endogenous myosin. We find that the actin-activated MgATPase activity for R403Q alpha-S1 is approximately 30% higher than for wild type, whereas the enzymatic activity for R403Q beta-S1 is reduced by approximately 10%. Thus, the functional consequences of the mutation are fundamentally changed depending upon the context of the cardiac MHC isoform.