Structure and macromolecular organization of type VI collagen

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1985;460:25-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1985.tb51154.x.


Collagen VI is a large, disulfide-bonded protein complex which is widely distributed in connective tissue. The constituent polypeptide chains (Mr = 110,000-140,000) consist of collagenous and noncollagenous segments, are degraded to chains of about half the size when collagen VI is solubilized by pepsin, and assemble to a unique pattern of oligomers. As revealed by electron microscopy, the triple-stranded protomer consists of a triple helix 105 nm in length flanked on each side by globular domains of similar size (diameter about 7 nm). Protomers are assembled to dimers by an antiparallel staggered alignment of triple-helical segments. This leads to inner regions, 75 nm in length, of two slightly supercoiled triple helices flanked by globular domains. At both sides 30-nm-long outer triple-helical segments emerge that are terminated by globules. Tetramers are formed from laterally aligned dimers that cross with their outer triple-helical segments in a scissors-like fashion. The same structures, except with much smaller globular domains, are found in pepsin-treated collagen VI. Disulfide-linked collagen VI produced by cultured fibroblasts has a size similar to that of genuine collagen VI found in tissue extracts. Larger forms of collagen VI are assembled from tetramers by end-to-end aggregation which because of an overlap of the outer segments brings all globular domains close together. This arrangement predicts microfibrillar structures in tissues with a periodicity of 100-110 nm and a diameter of 5-10 nm. Structures consistent with this proposal were indeed found by immunoelectron microscopy of placenta and aorta using the ferritin technique. Large, lateral aggregates of collagen VI microfibrils may in addition exist in cell cultures and tissues ("zebra collagen," "Luse bodies") and are presumably maintained by contacts between globular domains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Collagen / metabolism*
  • Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Molecular Weight
  • Pepsin A
  • Placenta / analysis
  • Pregnancy


  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Collagen
  • Pepsin A