Histochemical localization of alkaline phosphatase activity in decalcified bone and cartilage

J Histochem Cytochem. 2002 Mar;50(3):333-40. doi: 10.1177/002215540205000305.


We have developed methodology that enables alkaline phosphatase (ALP) to be histochemically stained reproducibly in decalcified paraffin-embedded bone and cartilage of rodents. Proximal tibiae and fourth lumbar vertebrae were fixed in periodate-lysine-paraformaldehyde (PLP) fixative, decalcified in an EDTA-G solution, and embedded in paraffin. In the articular cartilage of the proximal tibia, ALP activity was localized to the hypertrophic chondrocytes and cartilage matrix of the deep zone and the maturing chondrocytes of the intermediate zone. The cells and matrix in the superficial zone did not exhibit any enzyme activity. In tibial and vertebral growth plates, a progressive increase in ALP expression was seen in chondrocytes and cartilage matrix, with activity being weakest in the proliferative zone, higher in the maturing zone, and highest in the hypertrophic zone. In bone tissue, ALP activity was detected widely in pre-osteoblasts, osteoblasts, lining cells on the surface of trabeculae, some newly embedded osteocytes, endosteal cells, and subperiosteal cells. In areas of new bone formation, ALP activity was detected in osteoid. In the bone marrow, about 20% of bone marrow cells expressed ALP activity. In adult rats, the thickness of the growth plates was less and ALP activity was enhanced in maturing and hypertrophic chondrocytes, cartilage matrix in the hypertrophic zone, and primary spongiosa. This is the first time that ALP activity has been successfully visualized histochemically in decalcified, paraffin-embedded mineralized tissues. This technique should prove to be a very convenient adjunct for studying the behavior of osteoblasts during osteogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaline Phosphatase / analysis*
  • Alkaline Phosphatase / genetics
  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Cells / drug effects
  • Bone Marrow Cells / enzymology
  • Bone and Bones / enzymology*
  • Calcium / analysis*
  • Cartilage / enzymology*
  • Cartilage, Articular / enzymology
  • Chondrocytes / enzymology
  • Edetic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Fixatives / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression
  • Histocytochemistry*
  • Lac Operon / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Osteoblasts / enzymology
  • Paraffin
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Stem Cells / enzymology
  • Tissue Embedding


  • Fixatives
  • Paraffin
  • Edetic Acid
  • Alkaline Phosphatase
  • Calcium