In striated muscle, the basic contractile unit is the sarcomere, which comprises myosin-rich thick filaments intercalated with thin filaments made of actin, tropomyosin and troponin. Troponin is required to regulate Ca(2+)-dependent contraction, and mutant forms of troponins are associated with muscle diseases. We have disrupted several genes simultaneously in zebrafish embryos and have followed the progression of muscle degeneration in the absence of troponin. Complete loss of troponin T activity leads to loss of sarcomere structure, in part owing to the destructive nature of deregulated actin-myosin activity. When troponin T and myosin activity are simultaneously disrupted, immature sarcomeres are rescued. However, tropomyosin fails to localise to sarcomeres, and intercalating thin filaments are missing from electron microscopic cross-sections, indicating that loss of troponin T affects thin filament composition. If troponin activity is only partially disrupted, myofibrils are formed but eventually disintegrate owing to deregulated actin-myosin activity. We conclude that the troponin complex has at least two distinct activities: regulation of actin-myosin activity and, independently, a role in the proper assembly of thin filaments. Our results also indicate that sarcomere assembly can occur in the absence of normal thin filaments.