The investigation focuses on the phospholipid composition of the sarcolemma of cultured neonatal rat heart cells and on the distribution of the phospholipid classes between the two monolayers of the sarcolemma. The plasma membranes are isolated by 'gas-dissection' technique and 38% of total cellular phospholipid is present in the sarcolemma with the composition: phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) 24.9%, phosphatidylcholine (PC) 52.0%, phosphatidylserine/phosphatidylinositol (PS/PI) 7.2%, sphingomyelin 13.5%. The cholesterol/phospholipid ratio of the sarcolemma is 0.5. The distribution of the phospholipids between inner and outer monolayer is defined with the use of two phospholipases A2, sphingomyelinase C or trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid as lipid membrane probes in whole cells. The probes have access to the entire sarcolemmal surface and do not produce detectable cell lysis. The phospholipid classes are asymmetrically distributed: (1) the negatively charged phospholipids, PS/PI are located exclusively in the inner or cytoplasmic leaflet; (2) 75% of PE is in the inner leaflet; (3) 93% of sphingomyelin is in the outer leaflet; (4) 43% of PC is in the outer leaflet. The predominance of PS/PI and PE at the cytoplasmic sarcolemmal surface is discussed with respect to phospholipid-ionic binding relations between phospholipids and exchange and transport of ions, and the response of the cardiac cell on ischemia-reperfusion.