Advanced age, independent of concurrent cardiovascular disease, can be associated with increased extracellular matrix (ECM) fibrillar collagen content and abnormal diastolic function. However, the mechanisms causing this left ventricular (LV) remodeling remain incompletely defined. We hypothesized that one determinant of age-dependent remodeling is a change in the extent to which newly synthesized procollagen is processed into mature collagen fibrils. We further hypothesized that secreted protein acidic and rich in cysteine (SPARC) plays a key role in the changes in post-synthetic procollagen processing that occur in the aged myocardium. Young (3 mo old) and old (18-24 mo old) wild-type (WT) and SPARC-null mice were studied. LV collagen content was measured histologically by collagen volume fraction, collagen composition was measured by hydroxyproline assay as soluble collagen (1 M NaCl extractable) versus insoluble collagen (mature cross-linked), and collagen morphological structure was examined by scanning electron microscopy. SPARC expression was measured by immunoblot analysis. LV and myocardial structure and function were assessed using echocardiographic and papillary muscle experiments. In WT mice, advanced age increased SPARC expression, myocardial diastolic stiffness, fibrillar collagen content, and insoluble collagen. In SPARC-null mice, advanced age also increased myocardial diastolic stiffness, fibrillar collagen content, and insoluble collagen but significantly less than those seen in WT old mice. As a result, insoluble collagen and myocardial diastolic stiffness were lower in old SPARC-null mice (1.36 +/- 0.08 mg hydroxyproline/g dry wt and 0.04 +/- 0.005) than in old WT mice (1.70 +/- 0.10 mg hydroxyproline/g dry wt and 0.07 +/- 0.005, P < 0.05). In conclusion, the absence of SPARC reduced age-dependent alterations in ECM fibrillar collagen and diastolic function. These data support the hypothesis that SPARC plays a key role in post-synthetic procollagen processing and contributes to the increase in collagen content found in the aged myocardium.