The alkaline sphingomyelinase (SMase) was first found in rat intestinal brush border. The important roles of this enzyme in digestion of sphingomyelin and in mucosal cell proliferation have been suggested. In the present work, the distribution of the alkaline SMase in the tissues of human beings and animals have been studied. By assaying the enzyme activity in human biopsy samples, we found that the alkaline SMase activity was absent in the stomach, increased in the duodenum, present at high levels in the small intestine, and slightly declined in the colon and rectum. High activities were found similarly in the intestinal contents of the healthy adults and infants. The activities were also found in the intestinal mucosa of rats, normal and germ-free mice, and hamsters with the same distribution pattern as in humans, but not in the intestinal mucosa of guinea pigs. Apart from the intestinal tract, a SMase activity preferring alkaline pH was identified in human and guinea pig bile, but not in the bile of rat, pig, sheep, and cow. No activity was found in either pancreatic tissue or pancreatic juice in all species tested, and none was detected in human urine and milk. In conclusion, alkaline SMase exists predominantly in the digestive system with considerable tissue and species differences.