Collagen type XI is a component of hyaline cartilage consisting of alpha 1(XI), alpha 2(XI), and alpha 3(XI) chains; with 5-10% of the total collagen content, it is a minor but significant component next to type II collagen, but its function and precise localization in cartilaginous tissues is still unclear. Owing to the homology of the alpha 3(XI) and alpha 1(II) collagen chains, attempts to prepare specific antibodies to native type XI collagen have been unsuccessful in the past. In this study, we report on the preparation and use for immunohistochemistry of a polyclonal antibody specific for alpha 2(XI) denatured collagen chains. The antibody was prepared by immunization with the isolated alpha 2(XI) chain and reacts neither with native type XI collagen nor type I, II, V, or IX by ELISA or immunoblotting, nor with alpha 1(XI) or alpha 3(XI), but with alpha 2(XI) chains. Using this antibody, it was possible to specifically localize alpha 2(XI) in cartilage by pretreating tissue sections with 6 M urea. In double immunofluorescence staining experiments, the distribution of alpha 2(XI) as indicative for type XI collagen in fetal bovine and human cartilage was compared with that of type II collagen, using a monoclonal antibody to alpha 1(II). Type XI collagen was found throughout the matrix of hyaline cartilage. However, owing to cross-reactivity of the monoclonal anti-alpha 1(II) with alpha 3(XI), both antibodies produced the same staining pattern. Cellular heterogeneity was, however, detected in monolayer cultures of human chondrocytes.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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