The hemagglutinin (HA) of influenza virus is a homotrimeric integral membrane glycoprotein. It is cotranslationally inserted into the endoplasmic reticulum as a precursor called HA0 and transported to the cell surface via the Golgi complex. We have, in this study, investigated the kinetics and cellular location of the assembly reaction that results in HA0 trimerization. Three independent criteria were used for determining the formation of quaternary structure: the appearance of an epitope recognized by trimer-specific monoclonal antibodies; the acquisition of trypsin resistance, a characteristic of trimers; and the formation of stable complexes which cosedimented with the mature HA0 trimer (9S20,w) in sucrose gradients containing Triton X-100. The results showed that oligomer formation is a posttranslational event, occurring with a half time of approximately 7.5 min after completion of synthesis. Assembly occurs in the endoplasmic reticulum, followed almost immediately by transport to the Golgi complex. A stabilization event in trimer structure occurs when HA0 leaves the Golgi complex or reaches the plasma membrane. Approximately 10% of the newly synthesized HA0 formed aberrant trimers which were not transported from the endoplasmic reticulum to the Golgi complex or the plasma membrane. Taken together the results suggested that formation of correctly folded quaternary structure constitutes a key event regulating the transport of the protein out of the endoplasmic reticulum. Further changes in subunit interactions occur as the trimers move along the secretory pathway.