The GTP-binding protein ADP-ribosylation factor (ARF) initiates clathrin-coat assembly at the trans-Goli network (TGN) by generating high- affinity membrane-binding sites for the AP-1 adaptor complex. Both transmembrane proteins, which are sorted into the assembling coated bud, and novel docking proteins have been suggested to be partners with GTP-bound ARF in generating the AP-1-docking sites. The best characterized, and probably the major transmembrane molecules sorted into the clathrin-coated vesicles that form on the TGN, are the mannose 6-phosphate receptors (MPRs). Here, we have examined the role of the MPRs in the AP-1 recruitment process by comparing fibroblasts derived from embryos of either normal or MPR-negative animals. Despite major alterations to the lysosome compartment in the MPR- deficient cells, the steady-state distribution of AP-1 at the TGN is comparable to that of normal cells. Golgi-enriched membranes prepared from the receptor-negative cells also display an apparently normal capacity to recruit AP-1 in vitro in the presence of ARF and either GTP or GTPγS. The AP-1 adaptor is recruited specifically onto the TGN and not onto the numerous abnormal membrane elements that accumulate within the MPR-negative fibroblasts. AP-1 bound to TGN membranes from either normal or MPR-negative fibroblasts is fully resistant to chemical extraction with 1 M Tris-HCl, pH 7, indicating that the adaptor binds to both membrane types with high affinity. The only difference we do note between the Golgi prepared from the MPR-deficient cells and the normal cells is that AP-1 recruited onto the receptor-lacking membranes in the presence of ARF1·GTP is consistently more resistant to extraction with Tris. Because sensitivity to Tris extraction correlates well with nucleotide hydrolysis, this finding might suggest a possible link between MPR sorting and ARF GAP regulation. We conclude that the MPRs are not essential determinants in the initial steps of AP-1 binding to the TGN but, instead, they may play a regulatory role in clathrin-coated vesicle formation by affecting ARF·GTP hydrolysis.