Extracellular matrix molecules are generally categorized as collagens, elastin, proteoglycans, or other noncollagenous structural/cell interaction proteins. Many of these extracellular proteins contain distinctive repetitive modules, which can sometimes be found in other proteins. We describe the complete primary structure of an alpha 1 chain of type XII collagen from chick embryonic fibroblasts. This large, structurally chimeric molecule identified by cDNA analysis combines previously unrelated molecular domains into a single large protein 3,124 residues long (approximately 340 kD). The deduced chicken type XII collagen sequence starts at the amino terminus with one unit of the type III motif of fibronectin, which is followed by one unit homologous to the von Willebrand factor A domain, then one more fibronectin type III module, a second A domain from von Willebrand factor, 6 units of type III motif and a third A domain, 10 consecutive units of type III motif and a fourth A domain, a domain homologous to the NC4 domain peptide of type IX collagen, and finally two short collagenous regions previously described as part of the partially sequenced collagen type XII molecule; an Arg-Gly-Asp potential cell adhesive recognition sequence is present in a hydrophilic region at the terminus of one collagenous domain. Antibodies raised to type XII collagen synthesized in a bacterial expression system recognized not only previously reported bands (220 kD et cetera) in tendons, but also bands with apparently different molecular sizes in fibroblasts and 4-d embryos. The antibodies stained a wide variety of extracellular matrices in embryos in patterns distinct from those of fibronectin or interstitial collagens. They prominently stained extracellular matrix associated with certain neuronal tissues, such as axons from dorsal root ganglia and neural tube. These studies identify a novel chimeric type of molecule that contains both adhesion molecule and collagen motifs in one protein. Its structure blurs current classification schemes for extracellular proteins and underscores the potentially large diversity possible in these molecules.

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