Among 15,000 forensic post-mortem examinations performed on the coroner's order over a 24-year period (January 1981-December 2004) in the area of Lyon, France (population: 2,000,000), 2250 cases of unexpected cardiac sudden death were identified retrospectively according to WHO criteria. Of these, 108 occurred during recreational sport and 12 occurred in athletes. In the latter category, a history of anabolic steroid abuse was found in 6 cases, whereas pre-existing ordinary cardiac lesions were observed in the 6 remaining cases. To shed light on the possible role of anabolic steroids in the induction of cardiac lesions, an experimental study was conducted in rabbits that were treated orally with norethandrolone 8mg/kg/day for 60 days, and sacrificed at day 90. The histopathological examination of the heart from treated animals showed coronary thrombosis associated with left ventricle hypertrophy in 3 cases, and lesions analogous to toxic or adrenergic myocarditis in all other treated animals. These findings were very similar to those observed after cardiac sudden death in the 6 athletes with a history of anabolic steroid abuse. In addition, elevated caspase-3 activity in the heart of treated rabbits as compared to controls suggests that apoptosis is involved in the induction of norethandrolone-induced cardiac lesions. These results confirm the cardiotoxic potential of anabolic steroid abuse.