Cardiac hypertrophy and dilation are mediated by neuroendocrine factors and/or mitogens as well as through internal stretch- and stress-sensitive signaling pathways, which in turn transduce alterations in cardiac gene expression through specific signaling pathways. The transcription factor family known as myocyte enhancer factor 2 (MEF2) has been implicated as a signal-responsive mediator of the cardiac transcriptional program. For example, known hypertrophic signaling pathways that utilize calcineurin, calmodulin-dependent protein kinase, and MAPKs can each affect MEF2 activity. Here we demonstrate that MEF2 transcription factors induced dilated cardiomyopathy and lengthening of myocytes. Specifically, multiple transgenic mouse lines with cardiac-specific overexpression of MEF2A or MEF2C presented with cardiomyopathy at base line or were predisposed to more fulminant disease following pressure overload stimulation. The cardiomyopathic response associated with MEF2A and MEF2C was not further altered by activated calcineurin, suggesting that MEF2 functions independently of calcineurin in this response. In cultured cardiomyocytes, MEF2A, MEF2C, and MEF2-VP16 overexpression induced sarcomeric disorganization and focal elongation. Mechanistically, MEF2A and MEF2C each programmed similar profiles of altered gene expression in the heart that included extracellular matrix remodeling, ion handling, and metabolic genes. Indeed, adenoviral transfection of cultured cardiomyocytes with MEF2A or of myocytes from the hearts of MEF2A transgenic adult mice showed reduced transient outward K(+) currents, consistent with the alterations in gene expression observed in transgenic mice and partially suggesting a proximal mechanism underlying MEF2-dependent cardiomyopathy.