Heart failure is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the developed world, partly because mammals lack the ability to regenerate heart tissue. Whether this is due to evolutionary loss of regenerative mechanisms present in other organisms or to an inability to activate such mechanisms is currently unclear. Here we decipher mechanisms underlying heart regeneration in adult zebrafish and show that the molecular regulators of this response are conserved in mammals. We identified miR-99/100 and Let-7a/c and their protein targets smarca5 and fntb as critical regulators of cardiomyocyte dedifferentiation and heart regeneration in zebrafish. Although human and murine adult cardiomyocytes fail to elicit an endogenous regenerative response after myocardial infarction, we show that in vivo manipulation of this molecular machinery in mice results in cardiomyocyte dedifferentiation and improved heart functionality after injury. These data provide a proof of concept for identifying and activating conserved molecular programs to regenerate the damaged heart.