Recently, three novel collagen VI chains, α4, α5 and α6, were identified. These are thought to substitute for the collagen VI α3 chain, probably forming α1α2α4, α1α2α5 or α1α2α6 heterotrimers. The expression pattern of the novel chains is so far largely unknown. In the present study, we compared the tissue distribution of the novel collagen VI chains in mouse with that of the α3 chain by immunohistochemistry, immunoelectron microscopy and immunoblots. In contrast to the widely expressed α3 chain, the novel chains show a highly differential, restricted and often complementary expression. The α4 chain is strongly expressed in the intestinal smooth muscle, surrounding the follicles in ovary, and in testis. The α5 chain is present in perimysium and at the neuromuscular junctions in skeletal muscle, in skin, in the kidney glomerulus, in the interfollicular stroma in ovary and in the tunica albuginea of testis. The α6 chain is most abundant in the endomysium and perimysium of skeletal muscle and in myocard. Immunoelectron microscopy of skeletal muscle localized the α6 chain to the reticular lamina of muscle fibers. The highly differential and restricted expression points to the possibility of tissue-specific roles of the novel chains in collagen VI assembly and function.
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