The Golgi complex is composed of at least four distinct compartments, termed the cis-, medial, and trans-Golgi cisternae and the trans-Golgi network (TGN). It has recently been reported that the organization of the Golgi complex is disrupted in cells treated with the fungal metabolite, brefeldin-A. Under these conditions, it was shown that resident enzymes of the cis-, medial, and trans-Golgi return to the ER. We report here that 300-kD mannose 6-phosphate receptors, when pulse-labeled within the ER of brefeldin-A-treated cells, acquired numerous N-linked galactose residues with a half time of approximately 2 h, as measured by their ability to bind to RCA-I lectin affinity columns. In contrast, Limax flavus lectin chromatography revealed that less than 10% of these receptors acquired sialic acid after 8 h in brefeldin-A. Two lines of evidence suggested that proteins within and beyond the TGN did not return to the ER in the presence of brefeldin-A. First, the majority of 300-kD mannose 6-phosphate receptors present in the TGN and endosomes did not return to the ER after up to 6 h in brefeldin-A, as determined by their failure to contact galactosyltransferase that had relocated there. Moreover, although mannose 6-phosphate receptors did not acquire sialic acid when present in the ER of brefeldin-A-treated cells, they were readily sialylated when labeled at the cell surface and transported to the TGN. These experiments indicate that galactosyltransferase, a trans-Golgi enzyme, returns to the endoplasmic reticulum in the presence of brefeldin-A, while the bulk of sialyltransferase, a resident of the TGN, does not. Our findings support the proposal that the TGN is a distinct, fourth compartment of the Golgi apparatus that is insensitive to brefeldin-A.

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