OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to examine the genotype-phenotype relation with respect to penetrance, age and severity of expression, disease progression and prognosis in a recessively inherited arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). BACKGROUND: Naxos disease is a recessively inherited ARVC caused by a mutation in the gene encoding plakoglobin (cell adhesion protein) in which the cardiac phenotype is associated with palmoplantar keratoderma and woolly hair. METHODS: Twelve families with Naxos disease underwent cardiac and molecular genetic investigation. Serial cardiac assessment with annual resting 12-lead and 24-h ambulatory electrocardiogram (ECG) and two-dimensional echocardiography was performed during 1 to 16 years, median 7 +/- 6 years in all 78 surviving members. RESULTS: Twenty-eight surviving members were homozygous and 40 were heterozygous for the mutation. All adults who were homozygous (n = 26) fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for ARVC, the youngest by the age of 13 years. In eight who were heterozygous, minor ECG or echocardiographic abnormalities were observed. Of the 26 subjects who were affected homozygotes, 92% showed ECG abnormalities, 92% ventricular arrhythmias, 100% right ventricular structural alterations and 27% left ventricular involvement. During follow-up (10 +/- 6 years), 16 (62%) developed structural progression, 12 (46%) arrhythmic events and 7 (27%) heart failure. The annual disease-related and sudden death mortality was 3% and 2.3%, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Autosomal recessive ARVC caused by a mutation in plakoglobin was 100% penetrant by adolescence. Affected subjects who were homozygous experienced progressive disease with adverse prognosis. A minority of subjects who were heterozygous showed minor ECG/echocardiographic changes, but clinically significant disease did not develop.