BACKGROUND After the age of 60, isolated cardiac amyloidosis is four times more common among blacks than whites in the United States; 3.9 percent of blacks are heterozygous for an amyloidogenic allele of the normal serum carrier protein transthyretin in which isoleucine is substituted for valine at position 122 (Ile 122). We hypothesized that the high prevalence of transthyretin Ile 122 is at least partially responsible for the increased frequency of senile cardiac amyloidosis among blacks. METHODS Paraffin blocks of cardiac tissue were obtained from an earlier study of 52,370 autopsies in Los Angeles and were examined by immunohistochemical and DNA analyses. Samples were available from 32 of 55 blacks and 20 of 78 whites over 60 years of age with isolated cardiac amyloidosis and from two control groups (228 cases). RESULTS Transthyretin amyloidosis was identified in 31 of the 32 cardiac-tissue samples from the black patients and in 19 of the 20 samples from the white patients. Six of the 26 analyzable DNA samples (23 percent) from the black patients and none of the 19 samples from the white patients were heterozygous for the Ile 122 variant. Four of 125 DNA samples obtained at autopsy (3.2 percent) from a second, more recent, age-matched cohort of blacks without amyloidosis at the same institution were heterozygous for the transthyretin Ile 122 allele. On reexamination the cardiac tissue from these four patients contained small amounts of amyloid not detected at the initial autopsies. All subjects with the Ile 122 variant had ventricular amyloid. CONCLUSIONS The assessment of elderly black patients with unexplained heart disease should include a consideration of transthyretin amyloidosis, particularly that related to the Ile 122 allele.