Low-molecular-weight GTP-binding proteins are strong candidates for regulators of membrane traffic. In yeast, mutations in the sec4 or ypt1 genes encoding small GTP-binding proteins inhibit constitutive membrane flow at the plasma membrane or Golgi complex, respectively. It has been suggested that membrane fusion-fission events are regulated by cycling of small GTP-binding proteins between a membrane-bound and free state, but although most of these small proteins are found in both soluble and tightly membrane-bound forms, there is no direct evidence to support such cycling. In rat brain a small GTP-binding protein, rab3A, is exclusively associated with synaptic vesicles, the secretory organelles of nerve terminals. Here we use isolated nerve terminals to study the fate of rab3A during synaptic vesicle exocytosis. We find that rab3A dissociates quantitatively from the vesicle membrane after Ca2(+)-dependent exocytosis and that this dissociation is partially reversible during recovery after stimulation. These results are direct evidence for an association-dissociation cycle of a small GTP-binding protein during traffic of its host membrane.