Using indirect immunofluorescence we have examined the effects of reagents which inhibit the function of ras-related rab small GTP-binding proteins and heterotrimeric G alpha beta gamma proteins in ER to Golgi transport. Export from the ER was inhibited by an antibody towards rab1B and an NH2-terminal peptide which inhibits ARF function (Balch, W. E., R. A. Kahn, and R. Schwaninger. 1992. J. Biol. Chem. 267:13053-13061), suggesting that both of these small GTP-binding proteins are essential for the transport vesicle formation. Export from the ER was also potently inhibited by mastoparan, a peptide which mimics G protein binding regions of seven transmembrane spanning receptors activating and uncoupling heterotrimeric G proteins from their cognate receptors. Consistent with this result, purified beta gamma subunits inhibited the export of VSV-G from the ER suggesting an initial event in transport vesicle assembly was regulated by a heterotrimeric G protein. In contrast, incubation in the presence of GTP gamma S or AIF(3-5) resulted in the accumulation of transported protein in different populations of punctate pre-Golgi intermediates distributed throughout the cytoplasm of the cell. Finally, a peptide which is believed to antagonize the interaction of rab proteins with putative downstream effector molecules inhibited transport at a later step preceding delivery to the cis Golgi compartment, similar to the site of accumulation of transported protein in the absence of NSF or calcium (Plutner, H., H. W. Davidson, J. Saraste, and W. E. Balch. 1992. J. Cell Biol. 119:1097-1116). These results are consistent with the hypothesis that multiple GTP-binding proteins including a heterotrimeric G protein(s), ARF and rab1 differentially regulate steps in the transport of protein between early compartments of the secretory pathway. The concept that G protein-coupled receptors gate the export of protein from the ER is discussed.