The in vitro self-assembly of murine type IV collagen was examined by using biochemical and morphological techniques. Dimeric collagen undergoes a rapid and reversible thermal gelation at neutral pH without an appreciable lag period. The process is seen to be concentration dependent and inhibited by 2 M urea. The formed complex can be visualized by electron microscopy rotary shadowing as an irregular polygonal lattice network with extensive side by side associations within the collagenous triple-helical part of the molecules, two and three strands thick. Measurements on the matrix suggest a median stagger dimension of 170 nm, one-fifth the length of a dimer. The conversion of pepsin-generated monomers into N-terminally bound tetramers can also be demonstrated in vitro. This process is also concentration dependent and inhibited and reversed by 2 M urea but is thermally irreversible and occurs at a slow rate relative to the lateral associations. These tetramers can be seen by rotary shadowing as four-armed "spider" structures. It is proposed that lateral associations, by virtue of their faster rate of formation, precede 7S bond formation, and several models for the assembly of basement membrane collagen are discussed.