Type VI collagen is composed of a short triple helix rich in RGD sequences with globular domains at each extremity of the helix. Disulfide-bonded tetramers of the monomeric molecule associate non-covalently to form networks of microfibrils in connective tissues, including cartilage. The disulfide-bonded tetramer can be extracted with 6 M guanidine HCl and purified without pepsin digestion and is referred to here as the tissue form of type VI collagen. Type VI collagen in mature articular cartilage appears to be concentrated pericellularly. We undertook a systematic investigation using solid phase assays to establish the nature of the attachment of bovine articular cartilage chondrocytes to the intact, tissue form of bovine type VI collagen. The tissue form of type VI collagen was extracted from bovine meniscus cartilage with 6 M guanidine HCl and purified by polyethylene glycol precipitation. When equal molar quantities were coated on microwells, the tissue form of type VI collagen attached more cells than the pepsin-digested form of the molecule that lacked the globular domains. The attachment to the intact, tissue form was dose-dependent and saturable and was not inhibited by heparin or type II collagen. A linear GRGDSP peptide failed to inhibit attachment of the chondrocytes to the intact, tissue or pepsin-digested forms of type VI collagen, but totally inhibited the interaction when the intact molecule was reduced and alkylated. In contrast, a cyclic C*GRGDSPC* peptide inhibited attachment to the tissue form of type VI collagen, but not to fibronectin. The attachment had a metal ion dependence that could be satisfied by MnCl2, slightly less by MgCl2, but not at all by CaCl2. A direct interaction between the tissue form of type VI collagen and a chondrocyte cell surface receptor or receptors is a structural feature of the pericellular matrix in cartilage.