Two N-terminal ends of human type XVIII collagen chains have recently been identified. The two chains have different signal peptides and variant N-terminal noncollagenous NC1 domains of 493 (NC1-493) and 303 (NC1-303) amino acid residues, respectively, but share 301 residues of their NC1 domains as well as the collagenous and C-terminal noncollagenous portions of the molecule. Antibodies were produced against the NC1 region common to both human alpha1(XVIII) chain variants and against NC1 sequences specific to the long variant and were used in combination with in situ hybridization to localize this collagen in a number of human tissues. They were also used for Western blotting, which resulted in detection of overlapping high-molecular weight bands above the 200-kd standard in a kidney extract. Heparin lyase II and heparin lyase III digestions of kidney and placenta extracts indicated that at least in these tissues, type XVIII collagen contains heparin sulfate glycosaminoglycan side chains. Type XVIII collagen was found to be a ubiquitous basement membrane component, occurring prominently at vascular and epithelial basement membranes throughout the body. Comparison of the expression of the NC1-493 and NC1-303 variants revealed marked differences. The short variant was found in most conventional basement membranes, including blood vessels and the various epithelial structures, and around muscular structures. The long variant was expressed very strongly in liver, where it was virtually the only variant in the liver sinusoids, and it occurred only in minor amounts elsewhere. Thus, the 192 N-terminal residues specific to the long variant apparently confer some functional property needed above all in the liver sinusoids, but also at certain other locations.