The C-propeptide domain of procollagen can be replaced with a transmembrane domain without affecting trimer formation or collagen triple helix folding during biosynthesis.
An early form of procollagen I was found in acetic acid extracts of radioactively labeled chick embryo skull bones. It resembled native procollagen I, but sedimented slightly faster, and its component chains were slightly underhydroxylated and were not disulfide-linked to each other, although its propeptides were internally disulfide-bonded. Pulse-chase experiments showed its conversion to disulfide-linked procollagen. As the same conversion occurred when proline hydroxylation was blocked by 2,2'-dipyridyl, we infer that the formation of this precursor from its component chains does not require collagen triple helix formation. We suggest that interaction between the folded carboxyl propeptides of individual pro-alpha (I) chains is an important step in the formation of this precursor and of procollagen I. Studies of the refolding and association of fully reduced and denatured carboxyl propeptides supported this concept. In the presence of glutathione the correct disulfide bonds could be reestablished, as judged by a mapping of some tryptic peptides. Individual carboxyl propeptides refolded first, and this occurred even in 2 M urea. Recognition between folded carboxyl propeptides occurred only when less than 0.5 M urea was present. The presence of the carboxyl telopeptides was important for trimeric reassembly. Individual propeptides also folded spontaneously during cell-free translation of pro-alpha (I) chains and were recognized by specific antibodies. We consider the role of carboxyl propeptides in the formation of procollagen I molecules and suggest a model of self-assembly, possibly facilitated by interactions with the luminal surface of the rough endoplasmic reticulum.