Picornaviruses are frequently implicated as the etiological agents of acute myocarditis. This association is based historically on serological evidence of rising antibody titers to specific pathogens and more recently on identification of viral genomic material in endocardial biopsy specimens through in situ hybridization. Only rarely is infectious virus isolated from either the patient or the heart during periods of maximum myocardial inflammation and injury. Thus, despite a probable viral etiology, much interest centers on the role of the immune system in cardiac damage and the likelihood that the infection triggers an autoimmune response to heart-specific antigens. Heart-reactive antibodies and T cells are found in most myocarditis patients, and immunosuppressive therapy has proven beneficial in many, though not all, cases. Furthermore, murine models of coxsackievirus group B type 3-induced myocarditis also demonstrate that virus infection initiates autoimmunity and that these autoimmune effectors are predominately responsible for tissue injury. How virus-host interactions overcome presumed self-tolerance to heart antigens is discussed, and evidence supporting various theories of virus-initiated autoimmunity and disease pathogenesis are delineated.