The ultrafiltration function of the glomerular basement membrane (GBM) of the kidney is impaired in genetic and acquired diseases that affect type IV collagen. The GBM is composed of five (alpha1 to alpha5) of the six chains of type IV collagen, organized into an alpha1.alpha2(IV) and an alpha3.alpha4.alpha5(IV) network. In Alport syndrome, mutations in any of the genes encoding the alpha3(IV), alpha4(IV), and alpha5(IV) chains cause the absence of the alpha3. alpha4.alpha5 network, which leads to progressive renal failure. In the present study, the molecular mechanism underlying the network defect was explored by further characterization of the chain organization and elucidation of the discriminatory interactions that govern network assembly. The existence of the two networks was further established by analysis of the hexameric complex of the noncollagenous (NC1) domains, and the alpha5 chain was shown to be linked to the alpha3 and alpha4 chains by interaction through their respective NC1 domains. The potential recognition function of the NC1 domains in network assembly was investigated by comparing the composition of native NC1 hexamers with hexamers that were dissociated and reconstituted in vitro and with hexamers assembled in vitro from purified alpha1-alpha5(IV) NC1 monomers. The results showed that NC1 monomers associate to form native-like hexamers characterized by two distinct populations, an alpha1.alpha2 and alpha3.alpha4.alpha5 heterohexamer. These findings indicate that the NC1 monomers contain recognition sequences for selection of chains and protomers that are sufficient to encode the assembly of the alpha1.alpha2 and alpha3.alpha4.alpha5 networks of GBM. Moreover, hexamer formation from the alpha3, alpha4, and alpha5 NC1 monomers required co-assembly of all three monomers, suggesting that mutations in the NC1 domain in Alport syndrome may disrupt the assembly of the alpha3.alpha4.alpha5 network by interfering with the assembly of the alpha3.alpha4.alpha5 NC1 hexamer.