Human Goodpasture syndrome is a lethal form of autoimmune disease that is characterized by pulmonary hemorrhage and glomerulonephritis. The tissue injury is mediated by autoantibodies that bind to glomerular and alveolar basement membrane. The target autoantigen is alpha 3(IV) collagen, one of six genetically distinct chains that comprise type IV collagen, and the epitope is sublocalized to the noncollagenous domain (NC1) of the alpha 3 chain. The present study reports the unique capacity of alpha 3(IV)NC1 dimer from bovine kidney to aberrantly engage the immune system of rabbits to respond to self, mimicking the organ-specific form of the human disease, whereas the other chains of type IV collagen are nonpathogenic. However, alpha 3(IV)NC1 hexamer was nonpathogenic, suggesting the exposure of a pathogenic epitope upon dissociation of hexamer into dimers. Exposure of the pathogenic epitope by infection or organic solvents, events which are thought to precede Goodpasture syndrome, may be the principal factor in the etiology of the disease. The pathogenicity of alpha 3(IV) collagen brings full circle a decade of research that has identified four novel chains (alpha 3-alpha 6) of type IV collagen.