A single G1679E mutation in the amino-terminal globular domain N2 of the alpha3 chain of type VI collagen was found in a large family affected with Bethlem myopathy. Recombinant production of N2 ( approximately 200 residues) in transfected mammalian cells has now been used to examine the possibility that the mutation interfered with protein folding. The wild-type form and a G1679A mutant were produced at high levels and shown to fold into a stable globular structure. Only a small amount of secretion was observed for mutants G1679E and G1679Q, which apparently were efficiently degraded within the cells. Homology modeling onto the related von Willebrand factor A1 structure indicated that substitution of G1679 by the bulky E or Q cannot be accommodated without considerable changes in the folding pattern. This suggests protein misfolding as a molecular basis for this particular mutation in Bethlem myopathy, in agreement with radioimmunoassay data showing reduced levels of domain N2 in cultured fibroblasts from two patients.