Previous studies have shown that several forms of the glycoprotein tenascin are present in the embryonic extracellular matrix. These forms are the result of alternative splicing, which generates tenascin variants with different numbers of fibronectin type III repeats. We have used degenerate primers and PCR to isolate a novel tenascin exon from an avian genomic library. Genomic clones contained a sequence encoding a fibronectin type III repeat that corresponds to repeat ‘C’ from the variable domain of human tenascin. To demonstrate that tenascin containing repeat ‘C’ is actually synthesized by avian cells, a monospecific antiserum was raised against a repeat ‘C’ fusion protein. This antiserum recognized a novel high-molecular-weight variant on immunoblots of tenascin isolated from chicken embryo fibroblast-conditioned medium, and stained tendons on frozen sections of chicken embryos. A cDNA probe specific for mRNA encoding repeat ‘C’ was used for in situ hybridization. This probe hybridized in a subset of the embryonic tissues labelled with a universal tenascin probe, including tendons, ligaments and mesenchyme at sites of epithelial-mesenchymal interactions. Finally, we provide evidence that additional fibronectin type III repeats, one corresponding to a recently discovered human repeat as well as one entirely novel sequence, also exists in chicken tenascin mRNA. These data indicate that tenascin is present in the embryonic matrix in a multitude of forms and that these forms have distinctive distributions that may reflect more than one function for tenascin in development.

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