Two monoclonal antibodies have been produced against chick type V collagen and shown to be highly specific for separate, conformational dependent determinants within this molecule. When used for immunocytochemical tissue localization, these antibodies show that a major site for the in situ deposition of type V is within the extracellular matrices of many dense connective tissues. In these, however, it is largely in a form unavailable to the antibodies, thus requiring a specific "unmasking" treatment to obtain successful immunocytochemical staining. The specificity of these two IgG antibodies was determined by inhibition ELISA, in which only type V and no other known collagen shows inhibition. In ELISA, mixtures of the two antibodies give an additive binding reaction to the collagen, suggesting that each is against a different antigenic determinant. That both antigenic determinants are conformational dependent, being either in, or closely associated with, the collagen helix is demonstrated by the loss of antibody binding to molecules that have been thermally denatured. The temperature at which this occurs, as assayed by inhibition ELISA, is very similar to that at which the collagen helix melts, as determined by optical rotation. This gives strong additional evidence that the antibodies are directed against the collagen. The antibodies were used for indirect immunofluorescence analyses of cryostat sections of corneas and other organs from 17 to 18-day-old chick embryos. Of all tissues examined only Bowman's membrane gave a strong staining reaction with cryostat sections of unfixed material. Staining in other areas of the cornea and in other tissues was very light or nonexistent. When, however, sections were pretreated with pepsin dissolved in dilute HAc or, surprisingly, with the dilute HAc itself dramatic new staining by the antibodies was observed in most tissues examined. The staining, which was specific for the anti-type V collagen antibodies, was largely confined to extracellular matrices of dense connective tissues. Experiments using protease inhibitors suggested that the "unmasking" did not involve proteolysis. We do not yet know the mechanism of this unmasking; however, one possibility is that the dilute acid causes swelling or conformational changes in a type-V collagen-containing supramolecular structure. Further studies should allow us to determine whether this is the case.

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