The effect of X-ray irradiation on the process of primary mineralization in bone was studied by biochemical and ultrastructural methods. A single dose of 1500R was administered to the head region of rats. The animals were examined immediately after irradiation and 1, 2 and 3 weeks later. Fractions of isolated cells and extracellular matrix vesicles were prepared from the maxillary alveolar bone of irradiated and untreated rats by collagenase digestion and differential centrifugation. The protein content and activities of vesicular phosphatases were determined in both fractions. A continuous decrease in the activity of alkaline phosphatase could be observed in both cell and matrix vesicle fractions during a three-week follow up after irradiation. Acid phosphatase activity decreased only in the vesicle fraction. Transmission electron microscopy of irradiated bone tissue revealed that many matrix vesicles were devoid of intact membranes and apatite crystals. Calcifying nodules were abundant in the matrix without their apparent fusion into larger mineralized structures. It is suggested that irradiation interferes with enzymatic processes associated with primary mineralization.