The internalization and distribution of fluorescent analogs of phosphatidylcholine (M-C6-NBD-PC) and phosphatidylethanolamine (M-C6-NBD-PE) were studied in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. At normal growth temperatures, M-C6-NBD-PC was internalized predominantly to the vacuole and degraded. M-C6-NBD-PE was internalized to the nuclear envelope/ER and mitochondria, was not transported to the vacuole, and was not degraded. At 2 degrees C, both were internalized to the nuclear envelope/ER and mitochondria by an energy-dependent, N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive process, and transport of M-C6-NBD-PC to and degradation in the vacuole was blocked. Internalization of neither phospholipid was reduced in the endocytosis-defective mutant, end4-1. However, following pre-incubation at 37 degrees C, internalization of both phospholipids was inhibited at 2 degrees C and 37 degrees C in sec mutants defective in vesicular traffic. The sec18/NSF mutation was unique among the sec mutations in further blocking M-C6-NBD-PC translocation to the vacuole suggesting a dependence on membrane fusion. Based on these and previous observations, we propose that M-C6-NBD-PC and M-C6-NBD-PE are transported across the plasma membrane to the cytosolic leaflet by a protein-mediated, energy-dependent mechanism. From the cytosolic leaflet, both phospholipids are spontaneously distributed to the nuclear envelope/ER and mitochondria. Subsequently, M-C6-NBD-PC, but not M-C6-NBD-PE, is sorted by vesicular transport to the vacuole where it is degraded by lumenal hydrolases.