Wilson's disease is an inherited disorder of copper metabolism characterized by hepatic cirrhosis and neuronal degeneration. In this current study, a polyclonal antiserum specific for the Wilson's disease ATPase was used to examine the hepatic expression of this protein. Immunoblot analysis of lysates from human and rat liver detected a single 165-kDa protein, which by immunofluorescence was present only in hepatocytes and localized predominantly to the trans-Golgi network and exclusively in this compartment under low hepatic copper concentrations. Although hepatic copper concentration had no effect on the steady-state levels of the Wilson's disease protein, copper administration in vivo resulted in redistribution of this protein to a cytoplasmic vesicular compartment localized toward the hepatocyte canalicular membrane. The relative abundance of the Wilson's disease protein in the liver was found to be greatest in the fetus before the onset of biliary copper excretion. Taken together, these studies reveal a novel posttranslational mechanism of copper homeostasis in vivo consistent with the proposed function of the Wilson's disease protein in holoceruloplasmin biosynthesis and biliary copper excretion and of relevance to the broad clinical heterogeneity observed in this disease.