By combining dioleoylphosphatidylethanolamine (DOPE) with oleic acid (OA), palmitoylhomocysteine (PHC) or dipalmitoylsuccinylglycerol (DPSG) we have prepared pH-sensitive liposomes with different acid sensitivities. DOPE/OA liposomes are the most acid sensitive, while DOPE/DPSG liposomes are the least acid sensitive. Incubation of DOPE/OA liposomes with mouse L929 cells reduces the pH-sensitivity of these liposomes by altering the lipid composition. Using diphtheria toxin fragment A as a marker for cytoplasmic delivery, we find that the delivery kinetics of pH-sensitive immunoliposomes closely correlates with the modified acid sensitivities of the liposomes. Immunoliposomes encounter pH 6-6.2 with a t1/2 of 5-15 min after internalization. By contrast, acidification of the endosomes to pH 5.0 takes longer (t1/2 approximately 25 min). We also used a whole cell null point technique (Yamishiro and Maxfield (1987) J. Cell Biol. 105, 2713-2721) to directly determine the average pH encountered by the endocytosed immunoliposomes. We find that acidification determined by the null point method proceeds less rapidly than that estimated from DTA delivery data. This is likely due to the fact that the measured DTA delivery is done by those liposomes which first arrive at the endosomes with sufficient acidity. Our data suggests that DOPE/PHC immunoliposomes deliver at the early endosome while DOPE/DPSG immunoliposomes deliver at the late endosomes. The DOPE/OA immunoliposomes, with the altered composition and acid sensitivity, deliver with a kinetics intermediate between the other two immunoliposomes. Thus, pH-sensitive liposomes represent useful probes for studying the kinetics of endosome acidification.