The major renal Na(+)/phosphate cotransporter, NaPi-IIa, is regulated by a number of factors including parathyroid hormone (PTH), dopamine, and dietary phosphate intake. PTH induces the acute internalization of NaPi-IIa from the brush border membrane (BBM) and its routing to and subsequent degradation in lysosomes. Previous work indicated that megalin, part of the apical receptor-mediated endocytic apparatus, may play a role in the PTH-induced removal of NaPi-IIa. Here we examined in rats the time-dependent internalization route of NaPi-IIa after acute PTH application using immunohistochemistry and markers of several endocytic compartments. NaPi-IIa removal from the BBM was detectable as early as 5 min after PTH injection. After 10-15 min, NaPi-IIa was localized in subapical compartments positive for clathrin. Shortly thereafter, NaPi-IIa appeared in endosomes stained for EEA1 (early endosomal antigen 1). After 45-60 min, NaPi-IIa was found in late endosomes/lysosomes marked with lgp120. In contrast, no change in the subcellular localization of megalin and the Na(+)/H(+) exchanger NHE3 was detected up to 60 min after PTH injection. To further characterize the internalization route, insulin, as a marker for receptor-mediated endocytosis, and horseradish peroxidase (HRP) and fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-dextran (10 kDa), as markers for fluid-phase mediated endocytosis, were used. NaPi-IIa colocalized with insulin 5-30 min after PTH injection but did not overlap with HRP or FITC-dextran. These results demonstrate a distinct internalization route of NaPi-IIa in response to acute PTH application that may involve the receptor-mediated endocytic pathway including clathrin-coated vesicles and EEA1-positive early endosomes, and routes NaPi-IIa to lysosomes for degradation.