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The role of clathrin in retention of Golgi membrane proteins has been investigated. Prior work showed that a precursor form of the peptide mating pheromone alpha-factor is secreted by Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells which lack the clathrin heavy chain gene (CHC1). This defect can be accounted for by the observation that the Golgi membrane protein Kex2p, which initiates maturation of alpha-factor precursor, is mislocalized to the cell surface of mutant cells. We have examined the localization of two additional Golgi membrane proteins, dipeptidyl aminopeptidase A (DPAP A) and guanosine diphosphatase (GDPase) in clathrin-deficient yeast strains. Our findings indicate that DPAP A is aberrantly transported to the cell surface but GDPase is not. In mutant cells carrying a temperature-sensitive allele of CHC1 (chc1-ts), alpha- factor precursor appears in the culture medium within 15 min, and Kex2p and DPAP A reach the cell surface within 30 min, after imposing the nonpermissive temperature. In contrast to these immediate effects, a growth defect is apparent only after 2 h at the nonpermissive temperature. Also, sorting of the vacuolar membrane protein, alkaline phosphatase, is not affected in chc1-ts cells until 2 h after the temperature shift. A temperature-sensitive mutation which blocks a late stage of the secretory pathway, sec1, prevents the appearance of mislocalized Kex2p at the cell surface of chc1-ts cells. We propose that clathrin plays a direct role in the retention of specific proteins in the yeast Golgi apparatus, thereby preventing their transport to the cell surface.