Collagen XVII, or BP180, is a collagenous transmembrane protein and a structural component of the dermoepidermal anchoring complex. Molecular studies reveal that it has a globular cytosolic amino-terminal domain and flexible-rod extracellular carboxyterminal domain. The extracellular portion of collagen XVII is constitutively shed from the cell surface by ADAMs (proteinases that contain adhesive and metalloprotease domains). Cell biological analyses suggest that collagen XVII functions as a cell-matrix adhesion molecule through stabilization of the hemidesmosome complex. This concept is supported by investigations into human diseases of the dermoepidermal junction, in which collagen XVII is either genetically defective or absent (as in some forms of nonlethal junctional epidermolysis bullosa). Autoantibodies against collagen XVII (BP180) are seen in bullous pemphigoid, pemphigoid gestationis, mucous membrane pemphigoid, linear IgA disease, lichen planus pemphigoides and pemphigoid nodularis. In vivo and in vitro studies provide evidence for a pathogenic role of these autoantibodies, and suggest that the serum level and epitope specificity of these antibodies influences disease severity and phenotype. This review summarizes the structural and biological features of collagen XVII and its role in diseases of the basement membrane zone.