BACKGROUND Pediatric heart transplantation is a surgical therapy for dilated cardiomyopathy and for complex congenital heart defects with low pulmonary artery resistance. However, it is still discussed as controversial because of uncertain long-term results. We report our experience with pediatric heart transplantation in a heterogeneous population. METHODS Since 1988, 50 heart transplants were performed in 47 patients (30 with dilated cardiomyopathy, 17 with congenital heart disease). Mean age was 9.4 +/- 6.9 years (range, 4 days to 17.9 years). Twenty-three patients had a total of 36 previous operations. Clinical outcome was evaluated retrospectively. RESULTS Perioperative mortality was 6% due to primary graft failure. Late mortality (12%) was caused by acute rejection (n = 2), pneumonia (n = 2), intracranial hemorrhage (n = 1), and suicide (n = 1). Mean follow-up was 5.24 +/- 3.6 years. Actuarial 1, 5, and 10 year survival was 86%, 86%, and 80% and improved significantly after 1995 (92% [1 year]; 92% [5 years]). There was no significant difference between patients with dilated or congenital heart disease (1 year: 86% vs 82%; 5 years: 83% vs 74%; 10 years 83% vs 74%; p = 0.62). Three patients with therapy resistant acute or chronic rejection and assisted circulation underwent retransplantation and are alive. Freedom from acute rejection after 5 years was 40% with primary cyclosporine immunosuppression regime and 56% with tacrolimus. Since the introduction of mycophenolate mofetil, freedom from acute rejection increased to 62%. All survivors are at home and in good cardiac condition. CONCLUSIONS Pediatric heart transplantation is the treatment of choice for end-stage dilated cardiomyopathy as for congenital heart disease with excellent clinical midterm results. It is a valid alternative to reconstructive surgery in borderline patients. However, further follow-up is necessary to evaluate the long-term side effects of immunosuppressants.