It has recently been established that the carboxyl-terminal propeptide of type I collagen exert a feedback regulatory effect on extracellular matrix biosynthesis and that the propeptide bind to the alpha2beta1 integrin. This raises the intriguing hypothesis that the regulatory propeptide sequences exert their effects as a consequence of binding to the integrin. We show that recombinant alpha1(I) collagen chain C-terminal propeptide contains a binding site for the intact alpha2beta1 integrin and for a recombinant alpha2 integrin I domain, but not for the alpha1beta1 integrin, a structurally and functionally related collagen/laminin receptor. Additional studies employing a series of recombinant N-terminal and C-terminal deletion mutants, internal fragments of the propeptide, synthetic peptides, recombinant alpha2 integrin I domain and inhibitory monoclonal antibodies established that the previously identified sequences within the alpha1(I) C-terminal propeptide that mediate regulation of matrix biosynthesis are neither necessary nor sufficient for alpha2beta1 integrin binding. In contrast, the integrin recognition site is composed of a conformationally complex determinant located within a structurally distinct 115 amino acid region of the propeptide.