Inorganic pyrophosphate (PPi) may be important in the regulation of mineralisation but its origin in epiphyseal cartilage is ill-defined. Nucleoside triphosphate pyrophosphatase is one potential source, as this enzyme catalyses the formation of PPi from nucleoside triphosphates. This enzyme has been identified in matrix vesicles derived from rabbit epiphyseal cartilage and a method developed to measure the activity using ATP as substrate in intact matrix vesicles under relatively physiological conditions. The enzyme had a high affinity for ATP (Km less than 10 microM) and was also active towards GTP, CTP and UTP. Disruption of the matrix vesicle membrane by sonication failed to alter the activity. Treatment of sonicated matrix vesicles with Triton X-100 increased the activity which may indicate a direct effect of the detergent on the enzyme. Activity towards ATP was inhibited substantially by ADP and AMP and by another potential substrate beta,gamma-methyleneadenosine 5'-triphosphate. Dichloromethylene bisphosphonate, an analogue of the product PPi, inhibited the activity to a lesser extent. Two other potential substrates, NADP+ and thymidine 5'-monophosphate p-nitrophenyl ester were only weakly inhibitory as was 1-hydroxyethylidene 1,1-bisphosphonate. These results imply that nucleoside triphosphates are the substrates in vivo and the inhibitory effects of ADP and AMP suggest mechanisms whereby this activity could be regulated.