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Physiological role of alkaline phosphatase explored in hypophosphatasia


  • Michael P. Whyte

    1. Center for Metabolic Bone Disease and Molecular Research, Shriners Hospital for Children, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
    2. Division of Bone and Mineral Diseases, Washington University School of Medicine at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
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Address for correspondence: Michael P. Whyte, M.D., Shriners Hospital for Children, 2001 South Lindbergh Blvd. St. Louis, MO 63131-3597.


Hypophosphatasia (HPP) is the instructive rickets or osteomalacia caused by loss-of-function mutation(s) within TNSALP, the gene that encodes the “tissue nonspecific” isoenzyme of alkaline phosphatase (TNSALP). HPP reveals a critical role for this enzyme in skeletal mineralization. Increased extracellular levels of pyridoxal 5′-phosphate and inorganic pyrophosphate (PPi) demonstrate that TNSALP is a phosphomonoester phosphohydrolase and a pyrophosphatase that hydrolyzes much lower concentrations of natural substrates than the artificial substrates of laboratory assays. Clearly, TNSALP acts at physiological pH and “alkaline phosphatase” is a misnomer. Aberrations of vitamin B6 metabolism in HPP revealed that TNSALP is an ectoenzyme. PPi excesses cause chondrocalcinosis and sometimes arthropathy. The skeletal disease is due to PPi inhibition of hydroxyapatite crystal growth extracellularly so that crystals form within matrix vesicles but fail to enlarge after these structures rupture. Trials of alkaline phosphatase replacement therapy for HPP suggest that TNSALP functions at the level of skeletal tissues.