Collagen type X is composed of three identical α1(X) chains of 59 kDa, each containing a triple-helical region of 45 kDa flanked by a short N-terminal sequence and a larger non-collagenous C-terminal (NC1) domain of approx. 15 kDa. Collagen type X molecules can associate via their C-termini to form a regular hexagonal lattice in vitro, which in vivo may provide a modified extracellular matrix for the events of endochondral ossification. The NC1 domain of chick collagen type X was isolated and purified from a highly purified bacterial collagenase digest of hypertrophic chondrocyte medium proteins. The structure and aggregation properties of the NC1 domain of collagen X were investigated, independently of the triple helix. A trimer, a dimer and a monomer of the individual α-chain NC1 polypeptides were identified from a bacterial collagenase digest of cartilage collagens using [14C]tyrosine labelling, N-chlorosuccinimide peptide mapping and N-terminal sequencing. The trimer (50 kDa) remained intact in Laemmli sample buffer unless boiled, upon which it dissociated into the dimer (38 kDa) and the monomer (20 kDa). The dimer persisted even after prolonged periods of heating or reduction with β-mercaptoethanol, and in preparations obtained from chondrocyte cultures treated with β-aminoproprionitrile, indicating the presence of non-reducible, non-lysine-derived, covalent cross-links. Hexamers of the individual C-termini were observed in rotary-shadowed preparations of purified NC1 domain, reflecting the ability of collagen type X to self-assemble via its C-termini under appropriate conditions.
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