The ecto-nucleotide pyrophosphatase/phosphodiesterase (E-NPP) multigene family contains five members. NPP1-3 are type II transmembrane metalloenzymes characterized by a similar modular structure composed of a short intracellular domain, a single transmembrane domain and an extracellular domain containing a conserved catalytic site. The short intracellular domain of NPP1 has a basolateral membrane-targeting signal while NPP3 is targeted to the apical surface of polarized cells. NPP4-5 detected by database searches have a predicted type I membrane orientation but have not yet been functionally characterized. E-NPPs have been detected in almost all tissues often confined to specific substructures or cell types. In some cell types, NPP1 expression is constitutive or can be induced by TGF-beta and glucocorticoids, but the signal transduction pathways that control expression are poorly documented. NPP1-3 have a broad substrate specificity which may reflect their role in a host of physiological and biochemical processes including bone mineralization, calcification of ligaments and joint capsules, modulation of purinergic receptor signalling, nucleotide recycling, and cell motility. Abnormal NPP expression is involved in pathological mineralization, crystal depositions in joints, invasion and metastasis of cancer cells, and type 2 diabetes. In this review we summarize the present knowledge on the structure and the physiological and biochemical functions of E-NPP and their contribution to the pathogenesis of diseases.