Characteristics of brefeldin A (BFA)-induced redistribution of Golgi proteins into the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and its relationship to an ER retrieval pathway were investigated. Retrograde movement of Golgi proteins into the ER occurred via long, tubulovesicular processes extending out of the Golgi along microtubules. Microtubule-disrupting agents (i.e., nocodazole), energy poisons, and reduced temperatures inhibited this pathway. In BFA-treated cells Golgi proteins appeared to cycle between the ER and an intermediate compartment marked by a 53 kd protein. Addition of nocodazole disrupted this dynamic cycle by preferentially inhibiting retrograde movement, causing Golgi proteins to accumulate in the intermediate compartment. In the absence of BFA, such an ER cycling pathway appeared to be followed normally by the 53 kd protein but not by Golgi proteins, as revealed by temperature shift experiments. We propose that BFA induces the interaction of the Golgi with an intermediate "recycling" compartment that utilizes a microtubule-dependent pathway into the ER.