Long-term follow-up studies of patients with suspected viral myocarditis reveal progression to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in a significant number of cases. Thus, an underlying viral etiology has been hypothesized in the pathogenesis of ongoing heart disease that leads to DCM. Recent application of molecular biology in clinical diagnosis has strengthened this hypothesis. By use of probe hybridization and polymerase chain reaction, enteroviral RNA has been detected in the myocardium of patients at all stages of the disease process: myocarditis, chronic heart disease, and DCM. Experimental murine models of enterovirus-induced heart disease provide a framework for examining the pathogenic mechanisms. Viral cytotoxicity, immunological responses, viral RNA persistence, and spasm of the coronary microvasculature are all implicated in the ongoing disease process. Abnormal cardiac function and heart failure are attributed to the pathological changes that occur.