A lymphocyte-specific murine Ltk tyrosine kinase isoform was previously found to reside in the endoplasmic reticulum and to be potently activated upon treatment of cells with alkylating or thiol-oxidizing agents. Based on these observations, a unique role for Ltk was proposed as an endoplasmic reticulum-resident transmembrane kinase regulated by redox changes (Bauskin, A. R., Alkalay, I., and Ben-Neriah, Y. (1991) Cell 66, 685-696). To analyze why this Ltk isoform is retained in the endoplasmic reticulum, we investigated its behavior in over-expressing cells. Our results indicate that lymphoid Ltk exhibits a dual Nexo/Ccyt and Ncyt/Cexo transmembrane topology in transfected cells. This unusual behavior may be responsible for retention in the endoplasmic reticulum since mutants with an increased number of positive amino acids downstream of the transmembrane segment exhibit a conventional Nexo/Ccyt orientation and proceed to the cell surface. Endoplasmic reticulum-retained Ltk forms a prominent complex with the chaperone calnexin, suggesting that Ltk may be retained by the mechanism that prevents surface expression of inappropriately folded proteins or incompletely assembled protein complexes.