Type VII collagen is one of the newly identified members of the collagen family. A variety of evidence, including ultrastructural immunolocalization, has previously shown that type VII collagen is a major structural component of anchoring fibrils, found immediately beneath the lamina densa of many epithelia. In the present study, ultrastructural immunolocalization with monoclonal and monospecific polyclonal antibodies to type VII collagen and with a monoclonal antibody to type IV collagen indicates that amorphous electron-dense structures which we term "anchoring plaques" are normal features of the basement membrane zone of skin and cornea. These plaques contain type IV collagen and the carboxyl-terminal domain of type VII collagen. Banded anchoring fibrils extend from both the lamina densa and from these plaques, and can be seen bridging the plaques with the lamina densa and with other anchoring plaques. These observations lead to the postulation of a multilayered network of anchoring fibrils and anchoring plaques which underlies the basal lamina of several anchoring fibril-containing tissues. This extended network is capable of entrapping a large number of banded collagen fibers, microfibrils, and other stromal matrix components. These observations support the hypothesis that anchoring fibrils provide additional adhesion of the lamina densa to its underlying stroma.