Chick-embryo sternal chondrocytes have been cultured within three-dimensional collagen gels as part of a study concerned with the effects of extracellular matrix macromolecules on chondrocyte gene expression. Data are presented indicating that chondrocytes cultured within such a collagenous environment synthesize significantly more of an hitherto unidentified, low molecular weight collagen species than do cells grown on plastic tissue-culture dishes in the conventional manner. This low molecular weight collagen species contains noncollagenous domains (as indicated by its decreased molecular size after mild pepsin digestion), is distinct from the known collagen types (as judged by CNBr peptide analysis), and forms part of the insoluble collagenous matrix produced by the chondrocytes. Cells growing within the gel tend to form colonies consisting of a linear array of cells reminiscent of the cellular organization in growth cartilage.

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