OBJECTIVE Rats with a genetic tendency to develop hypertensive, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy were fed copper-deficient diets and their cardiac responses were investigated. METHODS Five male weanling rats of the Long-Evans and SHHF/Mcc-fa(cp) strains were randomly selected to receive diets containing either adequate quantities of copper (94.5 micromol Cu/kg diet) or reduced quantities of copper (<15.8 micromol Cu/kg diet) for 6 weeks, (n=5 within each group). Echocardiograms and electrocardiograms were recorded and analyzed at the end of the 6-week interval. RESULTS Electrocardiograms from copper deficient groups showed longer Q-T intervals and increased QRS amplitudes than controls. Both the copper deficient and control SHHF groups demonstrated significant QRS complex prolongation compared to Long-Evans rats. Echocardiography analysis showed significant increases in left ventricular area, free wall dimension, and myocardial cross-sectional areas in rats fed a copper deficient diet. The frequency of systolic cardiac murmurs increased in copper deficient rats and were related to the presence of valvular regurgitation as determined from echocardiography. DISCUSSION However, the data do not suggest that a copper-deficient diet fed to a strain of rats genetically susceptible to heart disease later in life, hastens or worsens the onset of cardiac disease. The genetic predisposition and copper-deficient states exert independent effects upon the heart.