Type IV collagen, the major component of basement membranes (BMs), is a family of six homologous chains (alpha1-alpha6) that have a tissue-specific distribution. The chains assemble into supramolecular networks that differ in the chain composition. In this study, a novel network was identified and characterized in the smooth muscle BMs of aorta and bladder. The noncollagenous (NC1) hexamers solubilized by collagenase digestion were fractionated by affinity chromatography using monoclonal antibodies against the alpha5 and alpha6 NC1 domains and then characterized by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis and Western blotting. Both BMs were found to contain a novel alpha1.alpha2.alpha5.alpha6 network besides the classical alpha1.alpha2 network. The alpha1.alpha2.alpha5.alpha6 network represents a new arrangement in which a protomer (triple-helical isoform) containing the alpha5 and alpha6 chains is linked through NC1-NC1 interactions to an adjoining protomer composed of the alpha1 and alpha2 chains. Re-association studies revealed that the NC1 domains contain recognition sequences sufficient to encode the assembly of both networks. These findings, together with previous ones, indicate that the six chains of type IV collagen are distributed in three major networks (alpha1.alpha2, alpha3.alpha4.alpha5, and alpha1.alpha2.alpha5.alpha6) whose chain composition is encoded by the NC1 domains. The existence of the alpha1.alpha2.alpha5.alpha6 network provides a molecular explanation for the concomitant loss of alpha5 and alpha6 chains from the BMs of patients with X-linked Alport's syndrome.