This study describes the distribution of an intrinsic membrane protein, the asialoglycoprotein receptor (ASGP-R) in the trans-Golgi reticulum and compartment of uncoupling receptor and ligand (CURL) of rat liver cells. Using quantitative immunogold electron microscopy and membrane length measurements, we showed lateral nonhomogeneity of receptors in the membranes of trans-Golgi reticulum and CURL, in particular in the membranes of secretory vesicles (identified by their content of albumin and very low density lipoprotein particles) and of CURL vesicles (endosomes), including multivesicular bodies. The characteristic tubulovesicular morphology of both sorting organelles defines the transition of receptor-rich tubular membrane and the receptor-poor limiting membrane of the attached vesicles. There was a direct relationship between the size of the secretory and CURL vesicles and the density of ASGP-Rs in their membranes. Receptor density in the smallest vesicles was similar to that found in adjacent continuous tubules. The larger the vesicles, the less receptor was detectable in their membranes. We propose that the receptor molecules are excluded from the vesicle membranes by dynamic lateral redistribution. Nonrandom receptor distribution in the CURL vesicle membranes was present even at the multivesicular body stage. These observations strongly suggest the existence of barriers to ASGP-R diffusion at the junctions of tubules and vesicles. In addition, our observations suggest that ASGP-Rs are transported to the plasma membrane via a mechanism other than the normal secretory pathway.