The pattern of type II collagen expression during Xenopus laevis embryogenesis has been established after isolating specific cDNA and genomic clones. Evidence is presented suggesting that in X. laevis there are two transcriptionally active copies of the type II procollagen gene. Both genes are activated at the beginning of neurula stage and steady-state mRNA levels progressively increase thereafter. Initially, the transcripts are localized to notochord, somites, and the dorsal region of the lateral plate mesoderm. At later stages of development and parallel to increased mRNA accumulation, collagen expression becomes progressively more confined to chondrogenic regions of the tadpole. During the early period of mRNA accumulation, there is also a transient pattern of expression in localized sites that will later not undergo chondrogenesis, such as the floor plate in the ventral neural tube. At later times and coincident with the appearance of chondrogenic tissues in the developing embryo, expression of the procollagen genes is characterized by the production of an additional, alternatively spliced transcript. The alternatively spliced sequences encode the cysteine-rich globular domain in the NH2-propeptide of the type II procollagen chain. Immunohistochemical analyses with a type II collagen monoclonal antibody documented the deposition of the protein in the extracellular matrix of the developing embryo. Type II collagen expression is therefore temporally regulated by tissue-specific transcription and splicing factors directing the synthesis of distinct molecular forms of the precursor protein in the developing Xenopus embryo.