Nuclear and mitochondrial (mt) DNA replication occur within two physically separated compartments and on different time scales. Both require a balanced supply of dNTPs. During S phase, dNTPs for nuclear DNA are synthesized de novo from ribonucleotides and by salvage of thymidine in the cytosol. Mitochondria contain specific kinases for salvage of deoxyribonucleosides that may provide a compartmentalized synthesis of dNTPs. Here we investigate the source of intra-mt thymidine phosphates and their relationship to cytosolic pools by isotope-flow experiments with [3H]thymidine in cultured human and mouse cells by using a rapid method for the clean separation of mt and cytosolic dNTPs. In the absence of the cytosolic thymidine kinase, the cells (i) phosphorylate labeled thymidine exclusively by the intra-mt kinase, (ii) export thymidine phosphates rapidly to the cytosol, and (iii) use the labeled dTTP for nuclear DNA synthesis. The specific radioactivity of dTTP is highly diluted, suggesting that cytosolic de novo synthesis is the major source of mt dTTP. In the presence of cytosolic thymidine kinase dilution is 100-fold less, and mitochondria contain dTTP with high specific radioactivity. The rapid mixing of the cytosolic and mt pools was not expected from earlier data. We propose that in proliferating cells dNTPs for mtDNA come largely from import of cytosolic nucleotides, whereas intra-mt salvage of deoxyribonucleosides provides dNTPs in resting cells. Our results are relevant for an understanding of certain genetic mitochondrial diseases.