Alkaline phosphatase activity in the liver and intestine increases after bile duct ligation, reportedly by increased enzyme synthesis. To ascertain the mechanism of this increased synthesis in the absence of a cDNA clone encoding the enzyme, we have estimated the concentration of liver and intestinal alkaline phosphatase mRNA by translational analysis. Monospecific antiserum to rat placental alkaline phosphatase was raised. The resulting antiserum precipitated two peptides of 53 and 56 kd after translation of liver poly(A) + RNA. The precipitation of both peptides was blocked by the single 64 kd placental alkaline phosphatase. Processing of the cell-free products by microsomal membranes produced peptides of 62 and 64 kd. Antiserum to rat intestinal alkaline phosphatase also identified two peptides as products of intestinal RNA translation. After bile duct ligation, we confirmed a transient 2-fold increase in alkaline phosphatase activity in the intestine and a more constant 7-fold increase in the liver. However, the alkaline phosphatase mRNA concentration remained unchanged in both organs. We conclude that increased alkaline phosphatase synthesis after bile duct ligation results from an enhanced rate of translation of mRNA.