The role of the intradiscal polypeptide loops in bovine rhodopsin has been investigated by deletions in the N-terminal tail and in loops B-C, D-E, and E-F as well as by single amino acid substitutions in the D-E loop. Mutants with three types of phenotypes were observed. Type I mutants showed a rhodopsin-like chromophore and glycosylation. Type II mutants did not regenerate the chromophore and showed abnormal glycosylation. Type III mutants showed poor chromophore regeneration and abnormal glycosylation. Reduced transducin activation was shown by some type I and III mutants. Single amino acid substitutions in the D-E loop gave mostly type I mutants. Deletions in loops B-C, D-E, and F-G gave type II mutants, whereas deletions in the N-terminal tail produced type III mutants. Systematic deletions of two adjacent amino acids in loop D-E indicated that the amino acid sequences 171-182 and 189-192 were essential to rhodopsin structure. Immunofluorescence double-staining and transmission electron microscopy of one type II mutant (with residues 189 and 190 deleted) showed that it was mostly in the endoplasmic reticulum, whereas the wild-type protein was in the plasma membrane. We conclude that the first step in the assembly of the rhodopsin molecule is the formation of a three-dimensional structure in the intradiscal domain involving the bulk of the out-of-the-membrane polypeptide segments followed by the linkage of Cys-110 and Cys-187 through a disulfide bond.