Dilated cardiomyopathy is characterized by decreased contractile function and loss of myofibril organization. Previously unexplored structural and molecular events that precede and initiate dilation can now be studied in tropomodulin-overexpressing transgenic (TOT) mice exhibiting progressive dilated cardiomyopathy. Onset of dilation did not correspond to a change in transgene expression levels, which were more than threefold above normal at birth and remained elevated throughout postnatal life. Similarly, mitogen-activated protein kinase activation (p38, ERK1/ERK2, JNK1/JNK2) was not associated with dilation. In contrast, calcineurin was activated before dilation, presumably due to doubling of intracellular diastolic calcium levels in TOT cardiomyocytes. Amplitude of systolic calcium transients was greatly increased as well, demonstrating the novel and unique calcium handling profile of TOT cardiomyocytes. Loss of myofibril organization was not apparent by confocal microscopy until over 1 week after birth, although neonatal sarcomeric abnormalities were revealed by ultrastructural analysis. Rapid postnatal increases in heart:body weight ratio at 1.5 weeks were followed by two waves of mortality between 2 and 3 weeks after birth coincident with maturational stress. Ultimately, TOT pathogenesis is a compensatory response to altered sarcomeric structure driven by calcineurin activation within days after birth, making TOTs an excellent paradigm for studying the role of calcium overload in dilated cardiomyopathy.