Numerous studies have implicated Coxsackievirus in acute and chronic heart failure. Although enteroviral nucleic acids have been detected in selected patients with dilated cardiomyopathy, the significance of such persistent nucleic acids is unknown. To investigate the mechanisms by which restricted viral replication with low level expression of Coxsackieviral proteins may be able to induce cardiomyopathy, we generated transgenic mice which express a replication-restricted full-length Coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3) cDNA mutant (CVB3DeltaVP0) in the heart driven by the cardiac myocyte-specific myosin light chain-2v (MLC-2v) promoter. CVB3DeltaVP0 was generated by mutating infectious CVB3 cDNA at the VP4/VP2 autocatalytic cleavage site from Asn-Ser to Lys-Ala. Cardiac-specific expression of this cDNA leads to synthesis of positive- and negative-strand viral RNA in the heart without formation of infectious viral progeny. Histopathologic analysis of transgenic hearts revealed typical morphologic features of myocardial interstitial fibrosis and in some cases degeneration of myocytes, thus resembling dilated cardiomyopathy in humans. There was also an increase in ventricular atrial natriuretic factor mRNA levels, demonstrating activation of the embryonic program of gene expression typical of ventricular hypertrophy and failure. Echocardiographic analysis demonstrated the presence of left ventricular dilation and decreased systolic function in the transgenic mice compared with wild-type littermates, evidenced by increased ventricular end-diastolic and end-systolic dimensions and decreased fractional shortening. Analysis of isolated myocytes from transgenic mice demonstrate that there is defective excitation-contraction coupling and a decrease in the magnitude of isolated cell shortening. These data demonstrate that restricted replication of enteroviral genomes in the heart can induce dilated cardiomyopathy with excitation-contraction coupling abnormalities similar to pressure overload models of dilated cardiomyopathy.