Mutations in matrilin-3 result in multiple epiphyseal dysplasia, which is characterized by delayed and irregular bone growth and early onset osteoarthritis. The majority of disease-causing mutations are located within the β-sheet of the single A-domain of matrilin-3, suggesting that they disrupt the structure and/or function of this important domain. Indeed, the expression of mutant matrilin-3 results in its intracellular retention within the rough endoplasmic reticulum of cells, where it elicits an unfolded protein response. To understand the folding characteristics of the matrilin-3 A-domain we determined its structure using CD, analytical ultracentrifugation, and dual polarization interferometry. This study defined novel structural features of the matrilin-3 A-domain and identified a conformational change induced by the presence or the absence of Zn2+. In the presence of Zn2+ the A-domain adopts a more stable "tighter" conformation. However, after the removal of Zn2+ a potential structural rearrangement of the metal ion-dependent adhesion site motif occurs, which leads to a more "relaxed" conformation. Finally, to characterize the interactions of the matrilin-3 A-domain we performed binding studies on a BIAcore using type II and IX collagen and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein. We were able to demonstrate that it binds to type II and IX collagen and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein in a Zn2+-dependent manner. Furthermore, we have also determined that the matrilin-3 A-domain appears to bind exclusively to the COL3 domain of type IX collagen and that this binding is abolished in the presence of a disease causing mutation in type IX collagen. © 2007 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.