Among the diverse family of collagens, the widely expressed microfibrillar type VI collagen is believed to play a role in bridging cells with the extracellular matrix. Several observations imply substrate properties for cell attachment as well as association with major collagen fibers. Previously, we have established genetic linkage between the genes encoding the three constituent alpha-chains of type VI collagen and Bethlem myopathy. A distinctive feature of this autosomal dominant disorder consists of contractures of multiple joints in addition to generalized muscular weakness and wasting. Nine kindreds show genetic linkage to the COL6A1-COL6A2 cluster on chromosome 21q22.3 (refs 3,4; manuscript submitted) whereas one family shows linkage to markers on chromosome 2q37 close to COL6A3 (ref. 5). Sequence analysis in four families reveals a mutation in COL6A1 in one and a COL6A2 mutation in two other kindreds. Both mutations disrupt the Gly-X-Y motif of the triple helical domain by substitution of Gly for either Val or Ser. Analogous to the putative perturbation of the anchoring function of the dystrophin-associated complex in congenital muscular dystrophy with mutations in the alpha 2-subunit of laminin, our observations suggest a similar mechanism in Bethlem myopathy.