In vitro binding studies with latent matrix metalloproteinase-9 (pro-MMP-9) have revealed the existence of nondisulfide-bonded alpha2(IV) chains on the cell surface capable of forming a high-affinity complex with the enzyme. Here we investigated the biosynthesis and cellular distribution of alpha2(IV) and alpha1(IV) chains in breast epithelial (MCF10A and MDA-MB-231) and fibrosarcoma (HT1080) cells by pulse-chase analysis followed by immunoprecipitation with chain-specific monoclonal antibodies (mAb). These studies showed that whereas the alpha1(IV) chain remained in the intracellular compartment, nondisulfide-bonded alpha2(IV) chains were secreted into the media in a stable form. Consistently, only alpha2(IV) was detected on the cell surface by surface biotinylation or indirect immunofluorescence. In agreement with the pulse-chase analysis, media subjected to co-precipitation experiments with pro-MMP-9 or pro-MMP-9-affinity chromatography followed by immunoblotting with chain-specific mAbs resulted in the detection of alpha2(IV). A preferential secretion of nondisulfide-bonded alpha2(IV) chains was also observed in CHO-K1 cells transiently transfected with full-length mouse alpha2(IV) or alpha (IV) cDNAs. However, a complex of mouse alpha1(IV) with pro-MMP-9 was coprecipitated with exogenous enzyme from lysates of CHO-K1 cells transfected with mouse alpha1(IV), suggesting that under overexpression conditions the enzyme can also interact with the alpha1 (IV) chain. Collectively, these studies further demonstrate the interactions of pro-MMP-9 with collagen IV chains and a unique processing and targeting of nondisulfide-bonded alpha2(IV) chains that may play a role in the surface/matrix association of pro-MMP-9.