The rate of biosynthesis of procollagen IV, the principal collagen of basement membranes, and the concentration of specific RNAs coding for procollagen IV were measured in neonatal rat lungs. Both decreased sharply at birth and then recovered again a few days later. The supramolecular assembly of procollagen IV was followed in neonatal rat, mouse, and chick lungs, which actively elaborate endothelial and alveolar basement membranes, and in chick embryo gizzard which is rich in smooth muscle. The tetramer of four procollagen IV molecules linked covalently through their amino ends was isolated as an assembly intermediate from all these tissues. While noncovalent association of the carboxyl ends of two procollagen IV molecules occurred readily, the subsequent establishment of covalent cross-links was substantially slower in the junctional complexes of the carboxyl ends than of the amino ends. Both disulfide bonds and other, unidentified covalent links formed. The six component carboxyl peptides of a junctional complex became progressively covalently linked into two kinds of carboxyl peptide pairs. We conclude that both amino-linked tetramers and carboxyl-linked dimers of procollagen IV molecules are intermediates in the biological assembly of the collagen networks of these basement membranes.

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