Type VI collagen, a widespread structural component of connective tissues, has been isolated in abundance from fetal bovine skin by a procedure involving bacterial collagenase digestion under nonreducing, nondenaturing conditions and gel filtration chromatography. Rotary shadowing electron microscopic analysis revealed that the collagen VI was predominantly in the form of extensive intact microfibrillar arrays. These microfibrils were seen in association with hyaluronan, which was identified by its ability to bind the G1 fragment of cartilage proteoglycan. Treatment with highly purified hyaluronidase largely disrupted the collagen VI microfibrils into component tetramers, double tetramers, and short microfibrillar sections. Subsequent incubation of disrupted collagen VI in the presence of hyaluronan facilitated a partial repolymerization of the microfibrils. In vitro binding studies have also demonstrated that type VI collagen binds hyaluronan with a relatively high affinity. These studies demonstrate that a specific structural relationship exists between type VI collagen and hyaluronan. This association is likely to be of primary importance in the growth and remodeling processes of connective tissues.

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