We evaluated the mechanism of increased serum concentrations of the 7S fragment of the N-terminal domain of type IV collagen (7S collagen) in chronic liver disease. We measured the concentrations of hepatic-free and deposited 7S collagens after extraction with Tris-HCl buffer and bacterial collagenase, then compared them with the serum levels in 8 normal controls and 48 patients with chronic liver disease. The hepatic 7S collagen levels extracted with Tris-HCl buffer and collagenase accounted for 7% and 93%, respectively, of the total 7S collagen levels in normal controls. Both hepatic 7S collagen levels as well as serum levels increased in accordance with the progress of liver disease. Serum levels of 7S collagen showed a closer correlation with the hepatic 7S collagen levels extracted with Tris-HCl buffer (r = .822), compared with those extracted with collagenase (r = .382). On the other hand, the histological degrees of liver fibrosis were highly correlated with the hepatic collagenase-extracted 7S collagen levels (r = .822), compared with serum and the hepatic Tris-HCl buffer-extracted levels (r = .478 and r = .537, respectively). Although there was no difference in serum and hepatic 7S collagen levels between B and C viral patients, the serum and hepatic Tris-HCl buffer-extracted 7S collagen levels were higher in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis than patients with viral cirrhosis. However, the hepatic collagenase-extracted levels were similar in both groups. Gel filtration demonstrated that the serum and hepatic Tris-HCl buffer-extracted 7S collagens were mainly eluted in the macromolecular 7S collagen-reactive fraction in cirrhosis, whereas the hepatic collagenase-extracted 7S collagen was eluted in the authentic 7S collagen-reactive fraction. The results suggest that serum 7S collagen levels are not a particularly reliable measure of hepatic fibrosis but reflect the enhanced metabolism, especially synthesis of type IV collagen in the liver.