Accurate data on the three-dimensional architecture of the Golgi is prerequisite for evaluating the mechanisms of transit through this organelle. Here we detail the structure of the Golgi ribbon within part of an insulin-secreting cell in three dimensions at ~ 6 nm resolution. Rapid freezing, freeze-substitution and electron tomography were employed. The Golgi in this region is composed of seven cisternae. The cis-most element is structurally intermediate between the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-Golgi intermediate compartment (ERGIC) and the cis-most cisterna characterized in three dimensions at high resolution in a normal rat kidney cell [Ladinsky, Mastronarde, McIntosh, Howell and Staehelin (1999) J. Cell Biol. 144, 1135–1149]. There are three trans-cisternae that demonstrate morphological and functional variation. The membrane surface areas and volumes of these elements decrease from cis to trans. The two trans-most cisternae are dissociated from the stack and are fragmented by tubulation. ER closely adheres to and inserts between individual trans-cisternae. Many of the 2119 small, clathrin-negative vesicles that are in close proximity to the Golgi fill the region where trans-cisternae have moved out of register with the ribbon. These data provide evidence that cisternal progression/maturation, trafficking via membrane tubules and vesicle-mediated transport act in concert in the same region of the Golgi ribbon, and suggest an important role for the ER in regulating membrane dynamics at the trans-Golgi.

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