Right ventricular pathologic involvement, with autopsy evidence of fibrous and fatty infiltration of the right ventricle, was investigated in members of families in which cases of juvenile sudden death had occurred. Seventy-two subjects from nine families were studied. Sixteen died at a young age and 56 are living. Postmortem investigation in 11 cases (mean age at death 24 years) revealed massive replacement of the right ventricular free wall by fat or fibrous tissue. In the 56 living patients clinical examination included an electrocardiogram (ECG) at rest, ambulatory ECG recording, posteroanterior and lateral chest roentgenograms, M-mode and two-dimensional echocardiograms and exercise stress tests. In 14 patients, hemodynamic, angiographic and electrophysiologic studies were also carried out; right ventricular endomyocardial biopsy was performed in four. Structural and dynamic right ventricular impairment was detected in 30 living patients (mean age 25 years), and concomitant mild left ventricular abnormalities were present in 4. In eight of the nine families studied at least two members were affected. Ventricular arrhythmias (Lown grade greater than or equal to 4a) were recorded in more than half of the cases. The data reveal that right ventricular dysplasia shows a familial clustering and causes electrical instability that may place affected subjects at risk of sudden death. The mean age of these subjects suggests that the disease is manifested at a young age with a polymorphic clinical and arrhythmic profile. Finally, because this disease is a primary disorder of the ventricular myocardium, it should be included among the cardiomyopathies.