In a family who expressed severe dominantly inherited osteoarthritis, the underlying mutation was traced by genomic sequencing to a single base change which predicts an amino acid substitution of cysteine for arginine at residue 519 of the triple-helical domain of the type II collagen molecule (Ala-Kokko, L., C. T. Baldwin, R. W. Moskowitz, and D. J. Prockop. 1990. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 87:6565-6568). In the present study we examined whether this predicted protein phenotype was evident in articular cartilage obtained from an affected family member who underwent hip surgery. The cartilage collagen was solubilized by CNBr digestion. Cysteine residues were labeled by reduction and alkylation with 14C-iodoacetate. Collagen CNBr-peptides were fractionated by ion exchange and reverse phase column chromatography. One peptide from the alpha 1(II) chain, alpha 1(II) CB8, was found to be radiolabeled. Tryptic peptides were prepared from it and identified by microsequence analysis. The results show that approximately one-quarter of the alpha 1(II) chains present in the polymeric extracellular collagen of the patient's cartilage contained the Arg519-to-Cys substitution. The protein exhibited other abnormal properties including disulfide-bonded alpha 1(II)-dimers and signs of posttranslational overmodification. The premature cartilage failure and osteoarthritis are presumably a result of the abnormal type II collagen being expressed in the cartilage matrix.