The P1P4-bis(5'-nucleosidyl) tetraphosphate asymmetrical-pyrophosphohydrolase from encysted embryos of the brine shrimp Artemia has been purified over 11,000-fold to homogeneity. Anion-exchange chromatography resolves two major species with very similar properties. The enzyme is a single polypeptide of Mr 17,600 and is maximally active at pH 8.4 and 2 mM-Mg2+. It is inhibited by Ca2+ (IC50 = 0.9 mM with 2 mM-Mg2+) but not by Zn2+ ions. It preferentially hydrolyses P1P4-bis(5'-nucleosidyl) tetraphosphates, e.g. P1P4-bis(5'-adenosyl) tetraphosphate (Ap4A) (kcat. = 12.7 s-1; Km = 33 microM) and P1P4-bis(5'-guanosyl) tetraphosphate (Gp4G) (kcat. = 6.2 s-1; Km = 5 microM). With adenosine 5'-P1-tetraphospho-P4-5"'-guanosine (Ap4G) as substrate, there is a 4.5-fold preference for AMP and GTP as products and biphasic reaction kinetics are observed giving Km values of 4.7 microM and 34 microM, and corresponding rate constants of 6.5 s-1 and 11.9 s-1. The net rate constant for Ap4G hydrolysis is 7.6 s-1. The enzyme will also hydrolyse nucleotides with more than four phosphate groups, e.g. Ap5G, Ap6A and Gp5G are hydrolysed at 25%, 18% and 10% of the rate of Ap4A respectively. An NTP is always one of the products. Ap2A and Gp2G are not hydrolysed, while Ap3A and Gp3G are very poor substrates. When the enzyme is partially purified from embryos and larvae at different stages of development by sedimentation through a sucrose density gradient, its activity increases 3-fold during the first 12 h of pre-emergence development. This is followed by a slow decline during subsequent larval development. The similarity of this enzyme to other asymmetrical-pyrophosphohydrolases suggests that it did not evolve specifically to degrade the large yolk platelet store of Gp4G which is found in Artemia embryos, but that it probably serves the same general function in bis(5'-nucleosidyl) oligophosphate metabolism as in other cells.