Interpretation and clinical significance of alkaline phosphatase isoenzyme patterns

Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 1994;31(3):197-293. doi: 10.3109/10408369409084677.


Alkaline phosphatase (ALP, EC is a membrane-bound metalloenzyme that consists of a group of true isoenzymes, all glycoproteins, encoded for by at least four different gene loci: tissue-nonspecific, intestinal, placental, and germ-cell ALP. Through posttranslational modifications of the tissue-nonspecific gene, for example, through differences in carbohydrate composition, bone and liver ALP are formed. Nowadays, most commercially available methods for separating or measuring ALP isoenzymes are easy to perform and sensitive and allow for reproducible and quantitative results. As more isoenzymes and isoforms have been characterized, confusion has arisen due to the many different names they were given. For the sake of simplicity and because of structural analogies, we propose an alternative nomenclature for the ALP isoenzymes and isoforms based on their structural characteristics: soluble, dimeric (Sol), anchor-bearing (Anch), and membrane-bound (Mem) liver, bone, intestinal, and placental ALP. Together with lipoprotein-bound liver ALP and immunoglobulin-bound ALP, these names largely fit the many forms of ALP one can encounter in human serum and tissues. The clinically relevant isoenzymes are sol-liver, Mem-liver, lipoprotein-bound liver, and Sol-intestinal ALP in liver diseases, and Sol-bone and Anch-bone ALP in bone diseases. Many different isoenzyme patterns can be found in malignancies and renal diseases. This test provides the clinician with valuable information for diagnostic purposes as well as for follow-up of patients and monitoring of treatment. However, ALP isoenzyme determination will only provide clinically useful information if the patterns are correctly interpreted. In this respect, care should be taken to use the proper reference ranges, taking into account the age and sex of the patient. A normal total ALP activity does not rule out the presence of an abnormal isoenzyme pattern, particularly in children. Separating ALP into its isoenzymes adds considerable value to the mere assay of total ALP activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Alkaline Phosphatase / chemistry
  • Alkaline Phosphatase / metabolism*
  • Bone and Bones / enzymology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intestines / enzymology
  • Isoenzymes / chemistry
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism*
  • Leukocytes / enzymology
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Male
  • Placenta / enzymology
  • Reference Values


  • Isoenzymes
  • Alkaline Phosphatase