Two recently identified collagen molecules, termed twelve-like A and twelve-like B (TL-A and TL-B) have properties similar to type XII collagen. These molecules have been localized in human and calf tissues by immunoelectron microscopy. The observations strongly suggest that both molecules are located along the surface of banded collagen fibers. The epitopes recognized by the antibodies are contained in large, nontriple-helical domains at one end of the collagen helix. The epitopes are visualized at a distance from the surface of the banded fibers roughly equal to the length of the nonhelical domains, suggesting that the nonhelical domains extend from the fibril, while the triple-helical domains are likely to bind directly to the fibril surface. Occasionally, both TL-A and TL-B demonstrate periodic distribution along the fibril surface. The period corresponds to the primary interband distance of the banded fibrils. Not all fibrils in a fiber bundle are labeled, nor is the labeling continuous along the length of labeled fibrils. Simultaneous labeling of TL-A and type VI collagen only rarely shows colocalization, suggesting that TL-A and TL-B do not mediate interactions between the type VI collagen beaded filaments and banded collagen fibrils. Also, interfibrillar distances are approximately equivalent in the presence and absence of these type XII-like molecules. While the results do not directly indicate a specific function for these molecules, the localization at the fibril surface suggests that they mediate interactions between the fibrils and other matrix macromolecules or with cells.

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