The extracellular matrix (ECM) of Volvox contains insoluble fibrous layers that surround individual cells at a distance to form contiguous cellular compartments. Using immunological techniques, we identified a sulfated surface glycoprotein (SSG 185) as the monomeric precursor of this substructure within the ECM. The primary structure of the SSG 185 poly-peptide chain has been derived from cDNA and genomic DNA. A central domain of the protein, 80 amino acid residues long, consists almost exclusively of hydroxyproline residues. The chemical structure of the highly sulfated polysaccharide covalently attached to SSG 185 has been determined by permethylation analysis. As revealed by EM, SSG 185 is a rod-shaped molecule with a 21-nm-long polysaccharide strand protruding from its central region. The chemical nature of the cross-links between SSG 185 monomers is discussed.

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