The cuticle collagen of the vestimentiferan Riftia pachyptila, an organism which is endemic to deep-sea hydrothermal vents, has several unusual properties including an extraordinary length (1.5 microns), a high thermal stability (37 degrees C) in spite of a low 4-hydroxyproline content and an atypically high threonine content (20 mol%). We have now purified the constituent chain of cuticle collagen and show that it contains about 40% carbohydrate, which is mainly galactose, indicating that the chain has a molecular mass of approximately 750 kDa. Several large (30 to 150 kDa) fragments, which all contained carbohydrate, could be produced by cleavage with endoproteinase Lys-C, bacterial collagenase and cyanogen bromide (CNBr). Edman degradation of these and several smaller fragments was used to determine about 3000 sequence positions comprising 60% of the total triple-helical sequence. This demonstrated mainly typical Gly-X-Y triplet repeats with a few imperfections and a longer N-terminal non-triplet sequence. Most of the 4-hydroxyproline was found in triplet position X, where it decreases the stability of the triple helix. About 40% of the Y positions could not be identified, which correlated with a low abundance of threonine in the sequence and the demonstration of threonine in these positions after deglycosylation of several peptides by treatment with hydrofluoric acid. Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionisation mass spectrometry of selected peptides indicated that the blocked threonine residues are occupied by chains of one, two or three hexoses (presumably galactose). These glycosylated threonine residues in Y positions are therefore likely to replace 4-hydroxyproline as the major contributor to triple helix stabilization. Studies with a synthetic (Gly-Pro-Thr)10 oligopeptide demonstrated a low thermal stability of its triple helix which emphasizes a crucial role of glycosylation for stabilization.