The effects of thyroid hormone on expression of cardiac myosin heavy chain genes generally are thought to be mediated by nuclear 3,5,3'-triiodo-L-thyronine (T3) receptors that have been identified as the products of the protooncogene, c-erbA. This hypothesis has been tested by transfection of cardiomyocytes in primary culture with a plasmid, pRSVhEACAT-, expressing anti-sense c-erbA mRNA. Because only a low percentage of cells (20%) could be transfected in primary culture an α-myosin heavy chain-chloramphenicol acetyltransferase fusion construct was used as a reporter gene. The results indicate that the anti-sense plasmid almost completely blocks T3-induced activity of the reporter gene (<1% control) while transfection of a similar amount of the sense construct, pRSVhEACAT+, has no effect. When the c-erbA plasmids were cotransfected with constructs containing T3-independent promotors, no effects on expression were observed. The combined use of an anti-sense construct and a report gene provides a means of studying the role of c-erbA products in intracellular signal transduction even in differentiated, nondividing cells like those of the heart.