BACKGROUND: Cardiotin expression is observed in adult cardiac tissue. In the present study, we provide evidence for the specific localization of cardiotin in cardiac mitochondria and for its down-regulation during adaptive remodeling (dedifferentiation) of cardiomyocytes. METHODS: Immunocytochemistry was used to study cardiotin localization in adult rabbit papillary muscle, in late-stage embryonic rabbit left ventricular tissue, and in left ventricle samples of rabbits suffering from pressure and volume overload. Western blot analysis of cardiotin was performed in purified pig heart mitochondrial fractions. Cardiotin expression was monitored in vitro in isolated adult rat and rabbit left ventricular cardiomyocytes. RESULTS: Western blot analysis revealed the presence of cardiotin in the mitochondrial fractions of pig heart. Immunoelectron microscopy confirmed the presence of cardiotin in cardiac mitochondria of normal adult rabbits both in vivo and in vitro. Quantification of the localization of immunogold particles suggests an association of cardiotin with the mitochondrial inner membrane. Cardiotin expression is initiated in late-stage embryonic rabbit heart, whereas in adult ventricular tissue cardiotin clearly stained longitudinal arrays of mitochondria. Pressure- and volume-overloaded myocardium showed a reduction in cardiotin expression in dispersed local myocardial areas. Cell cultures of adult cardiomyocytes showed a gradual loss in cardiotin expression in parallel with a sarcomeric remodeling. CONCLUSIONS: Our results demonstrate the specific localization of cardiotin in adult cardiomyocyte mitochondria and propose its use as an early marker for cardiomyocyte adaptive remodeling and dedifferentiation.