Although it is well known that mutations in the cardiac regulatory myosin light chain-2 (mlc-2) gene cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the precise in vivo structural and functional roles of MLC-2 in the heart are only poorly understood. We have isolated a mutation in zebrafish, tell tale heart (telm225), which selectively perturbs contractility of the embryonic heart. By positional cloning, we identified tel to encode the zebrafish mlc-2 gene. In contrast to mammals, zebrafish have only 1 cardiac-specific mlc-2 gene, which we find to be expressed in atrial and ventricular cardiomyocytes during early embryonic development, but also in the adult heart. Accordingly, loss of zMLC-2 function cannot be compensated for by upregulation of another mlc-2 gene. Surprisingly, ultrastructural analysis of tel cardiomyocytes reveals complete absence of organized thick myofilaments. Thus, our findings provide the first in vivo evidence that cardiac MLC-2 is required for thick-filament stabilization and contractility in the vertebrate heart.