Human serum contains two isoforms of tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase (TRACP) known as TRACP 5a and TRACP 5b with pH optima of 5.0 and 5.8, respectively. Preliminary data suggest that serum TRACP 5b is derived from osteoclasts and serum TRACP 5a from some other cells. It has been reported that heparin inhibits TRACP 5a but has no effect on the activity of TRACP 5b. Here we show that heparin has no effect on serum TRACP activity, as determined using our previously published immunoassay, suggesting that the immunoassay does not detect TRACP 5a. The change of serum TRACP 5b activity after 6 months HRT, determined by this immunoassay, correlated significantly with the changes of all markers of bone turnover determined, including serum N- and C-terminal propeptides of type I collagen and urinary-free deoxypyridinoline. Serum TRACP 5b activity was significantly elevated in patients with osteoporosis and had a significant negative correlation with bone mineral density (BMD). Serum TRACP 5a activity, determined by an immunoassay, showed no correlation with serum TRACP 5b activity, with BMD, or with any of the markers of bone turnover. These results show that serum TRACP 5b, but not 5a, reflects the bone resorption rate, and that our TRACP 5b immunoassay may be a specific method for the determination of the bone resorption rate from serum samples.