The N-terminal N5 subdomain of the alpha 3(VI) chain is important for collagen VI microfibril formation

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Collagen VI assembly is unique within the collagen superfamily in that the alpha 1(VI), alpha 2(VI), and alpha 3(VI) chains associate intracellularly to form triple helical monomers, and then dimers and tetramers, which are secreted from the cell. Secreted tetramers associate end-to-end to form the distinctive extracellular microfibrils that are found in virtually all connective tissues. Although the precise protein interactions involved in this process are unknown, the N-terminal globular regions, which are composed of multiple copies of von Willebrand factor type A-like domains, are likely to play a critical role in microfibril formation, because they are exposed at both ends of the tetramers. To explore the role of these subdomains in collagen VI intracellular and extracellular assembly, alpha 3(VI) cDNA expression constructs with sequential N-terminal deletions were stably transfected into SaOS-2 cells, producing cell lines that express alpha 3(VI) chains with N-terminal globular domains containing modules N9-N1, N6-N1, N5-N1, N4-N1, N3-N1, or N1, as well as the complete triple helix and C-terminal globular domain (C1-C5). All of these transfected alpha 3(VI) chains were able to associate with endogenous alpha 1(VI) and alpha 2(VI) to form collagen VI monomers, dimers, and tetramers, which were secreted. Importantly, cells that expressed alpha 3(VI) chains containing the N5 subdomain, alpha 3(VI) N9-C5, N6-C5, and N5-C5, formed microfibrils and deposited a collagen VI matrix. In contrast, cells that expressed the shorter alpha 3(VI) chains, N4-C5, N3-C5, and N1-C5, were severely compromised in their ability to form end-to-end tetramer assemblies and failed to deposit a collagen VI matrix. These data demonstrate that the alpha 3(VI) N5 module is critical for microfibril formation, thus identifying a functional role for a specific type A subdomain in collagen VI assembly.


  • Jamie Fitzgerald
  • Matthias Mörgelin
  • Carly Selan
  • Charlotte Wiberg
  • Douglas R. Keene
  • Shireen R. Lamande
  • John F. Bateman
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Infectious Medicine
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-193
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Publication categoryResearch