Electrical stimulation of neonatal rat cardiac myocytes in culture produces increases in myocyte size (hypertrophy) and organization of actin into myofibrillar arrays. The maturation of the cells is associated with enhanced contractile parameters and cellular calcium content. The numbers and intensity of cellular mitochondrial profiles increase, as measured by scanning laser confocal microscopy. Consistent with the hypertrophic response is increased cellular content of beta-myosin heavy chain and cytochrome oxidase subunit Va messages, as well as increases in cytochrome oxidase activity in the stimulated cardiac myocytes. Myocyte contractile capacity is associated with increased expression of the muscle carnitine palmitoyltransferase (CPT-I) isoform as measured by Northern analysis, immunoblotting, and altered sensitivity of CPT-I activity to malonyl-CoA in the stimulated cells. The data suggest that a switch from the liver isoform of CPT-I, prominent in the neonatal rat heart, to the muscle CPT-I which predominates in adult rat heart, takes place in the neonatal cardiac myocytes over the same time period as the hypertrophic-mediated changes in myofibrillar assembly and increased contractile activity.