Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are primary targets of free radical damage during oxidative stress. Diffusible electrophilic alpha,beta-unsaturated aldehydes, such as 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE), have been shown to modify proteins that mediate cell signaling (e.g., IKK and Keap1) and alter gene expression pathways responsible for inducing antioxidant genes, heat shock proteins, and the DNA damage response. To fully understand cellular responses to HNE, it is important to determine its protein targets in an unbiased fashion. This requires a strategy for detecting and isolating HNE-modified proteins regardless of the nature of the chemical linkage between HNE and its targets. Azido or alkynyl derivatives of HNE were synthesized and demonstrated to be equivalent to HNE in their ability to induce heme oxygenase induction and induce apoptosis in colon cancer (RKO) cells. Cells exposed to the tagged HNE derivatives were lysed and exposed to reagents to effect Staudinger ligation or copper-catalyzed Huisgen 1,3 dipolar cycloaddition reaction (click chemistry) to conjugate HNE-adducted proteins with biotin for subsequent affinity purification. Both strategies yielded efficient biotinylation of tagged HNE-protein conjugates, but click chemistry was found to be superior for the recovery of biotinylated proteins from streptavidin-coated beads. Biotinylated proteins were detected in lysates from RKO cell incubations with azido-HNE at concentrations as low as 1 microM. These proteins were affinity purified with streptavidin beads, and proteomic analysis was performed by linear ion trap mass spectrometry. Proteomic analysis revealed a dose-dependent increase in labeled proteins with increased sequence coverage at higher concentrations. Several proteins involved in stress signaling (heat shock proteins 70 and 90 and the 78-kDa glucose-regulated protein) were selectively adducted by azido- and alkynyl-HNE. The use of azido and alkynyl derivatives in conjunction with click chemistry appears to be a valuable approach for the identification of the protein targets of HNE.