Seminiferous tubule basement membrane (STBM) plays an important role in spermatogenesis. In the present study, the composition and structural organization of type IV collagen of bovine STBM was investigated. STBM was found to be composed of all six alpha-chains of type IV collagen based upon immunocytochemical and biochemical analysis. The content of alpha3(IV) chain (40%) and the alpha4(IV) chain (18%) was substantially higher than in any other basement membrane collagen. The supramolecular structure of the six alpha(IV) chains was investigated using pseudolysin (EC 184.108.40.206) digestion to excise triple-helical molecules, subsequent collagenase digestion to produce NC1 hexamers and antibody affinity chromatography to resolve populations of NC1 hexamers. The hexamers, which reflect specific arrangements of alpha(IV) chains, were characterized for their alpha(IV) chain composition using high performance liquid chromatography, two-dimensional electrophoresis, and immunoblotting with alpha(IV) chain-specific antibodies. Three major hexamer populations were found that represent the classical network of the alpha1(IV) and alpha2(IV) chains and two novel networks, one composed of the alpha1(IV)-alpha6(IV) chains and the other composed of the alpha3(IV)-alpha6(IV) chains. The results establish a structural linkage between the alpha3(IV) and alpha5(IV) chains, suggesting a molecular basis for the conundrum in which mutations in the gene encoding the alpha5(IV) chain cause defective assembly of the alpha3(IV) chain in the glomerular basement membrane of patients with Alport syndrome.