The collagen superfamily of proteins plays a dominant role in maintaining the integrity of various tissues and also has a number of other important functions. The superfamily now includes more than 20 collagen types with altogether at least 38 distinct polypeptide chains, and more than 15 additional proteins that have collagen-like domains. Most collagens form polymeric assemblies, such as fibrils, networks and filaments, and the superfamily can be divided into several families based on these assemblies and other features. All collagens also contain noncollagenous domains, and many of these have important functions that are distinct from those of the collagen domains. Major interest has been focused on endostatin, a fragment released from type XVIII collagen, which potently inhibits angiogenesis and tumour growth. Collagen synthesis requires eight specific post-translational enzymes, some of which are attractive targets for the development of drugs to inhibit collagen accumulation in fibrotic diseases. The critical roles of collagens have been clearly illustrated by the wide spectrum of diseases caused by the more than 1,000 mutations that have thus far been identified in 22 genes for 12 out of the more than 20 collagen types. These diseases include osteogenesis imperfecta, many chondrodysplasias, several subtypes of the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Alport syndrome, Bethlem myopathy, certain subtypes of epidermolysis bullosa, Knobloch syndrome and also some cases of osteoporosis, arterial aneurysms, osteoarthrosis, and intervertebral disc disease. The characterization of mutations in additional collagen genes will probably add further diseases to this list. Mice with genetically engineered collagen mutations have proved valuable for defining the functions of various collagens and for studying many aspects of the related diseases.