A null mutation in the desmin gene has been introduced into the germ line of mice. Such mice develop and reproduce normally proving that desmin is not needed either for the formation of the heart or the alignment of functioning myofibrils. However, cardiovascular lesions and a skeletal myopathy were observed in growing and adult mice. In the present study we have carried out a detailed analysis of these cardiac lesions. Homozygous mutant mice, which were confirmed to lack expression of desmin mRNA and desmin protein in the heart, were revealed by electron microscopy to contain degenerating cardiomyocytes as early as 5 days post-partum. At 10 days post-partum and onwards the degeneration of cardiomyocytes gave rise to areas with an accumulation of macrophages, fibrosis and calcification preferentially in the inter-ventricular septum and the free wall of the right ventricle. The localization of the lesions mainly to these sites suggested that it is not the work load and contractions per se which were the pathogenic events leading to the cardiomyopathy. It might be that stress related to lengthening of the myocytes occur more in the right ventricle than in the left. At the ultrastructural level changes in the intercalated discs, disruption of the sarcolemma and supercontraction of myofibrils seemed to be the key events leading to cardiomyocyte death. Thus, the intermediate filaments are required to maintain the basic integrity of cardiomyocytes and especially the link between the intermediate filaments and the sarcolemma appear more important than previously realized.