It has recently become apparent that collagen fibrils may be composed of more than one kind of macromolecule. To explore this possibility, we developed a procedure to purify fibril fragments from 17-d embryonic chicken sternal cartilage. The fibril population obtained shows, after negative staining, a uniformity in the banding pattern and diameter similar to the fibrils in situ. Pepsin digestion of this fibril preparation releases collagen types II, IX, and XI in the proportion of 8:1:1. Rotary shadowing of the fibrils reveals a d-periodic distribution of 35-40-nm long projections, each capped with a globular domain, which resemble in form and dimensions the aminoterminal globular and collagenous domains, NC4 and COL3, of type IX collagen. The monoclonal antibody (4D6) specific for an epitope close to the amino terminal of the COL3 domain of type IX collagen bound to these projections, thus confirming their identity. Type IX collagen is therefore distributed in a regular d-periodic arrangement along cartilage fibrils, with the chondroitin sulfate chain of type IX collagen in intimate contact with the fibril.

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