In our recent studies, we have demonstrated that monolayer cultures of bovine aortic endothelial (BAE) cells that do not express type I collagen also fail to express and synthesize decorin, a small chondroitin/dermatan sulfate proteoglycan that interacts with type I collagen and regulates collagen fibrillogenesis in vitro. However, BAE cells exhibiting a spontaneous sprouting phenotype and a predisposition toward the formation of cords and tube-like structures (an in vitro model for angiogenesis) initiate the synthesis of type I collagen during their morphological transition from a polygonal monolayer to an angiogenic phenotype. In the present study, we examined whether BAE cells also initiate the synthesis of the proteoglycan decorin during this morphological transition. We show by Northern blot analysis and by immunochemical methods that BAE cell cultures containing sprouting cells and cords, but not monolayer cultures of these cells, express and synthesize decorin (Mr ~ 100,000). We also show that type I collagen expression by BAE cell cultures is initiated concomitantly. However, the localization of decorin and type I collagen in cord and tube-forming BAE cell cultures is not completely identical. Type I collagen is detected only in sprouting BAE cells and in endothelial cords, whereas decorin is also apparent in BAE cells surrounding the cords and tubes. Our results indicate that the synthesis of decorin as well as type I collagen is associated with endothelial cord and tube formation in vitro.