Reactive carbonyl compounds are formed during autoxidation of carbohydrates and peroxidation of lipids. These compounds are intermediates in the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGE) and advanced lipoxidation end products (ALE) in tissue proteins during aging and in chronic disease. We studied the reaction of carbonyl compounds glyoxal (GO) and glycolaldehyde (GLA) with pyridoxamine (PM), a potent post-Amadori inhibitor of AGE formation in vitro and of development of renal and retinal pathology in diabetic animals. PM reacted rapidly with GO and GLA in neutral, aqueous buffer, forming a Schiff base intermediate that cyclized to a hemiaminal adduct by intramolecular reaction with the phenolic hydroxyl group of PM. This bicyclic intermediate dimerized to form a five-ring compound with a central piperazine ring, which was characterized by electrospray ionization-liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry, NMR, and x-ray crystallography. PM also inhibited the modification of lysine residues and loss of enzymatic activity of RNase in the presence of GO and GLA and inhibited formation of the AGE/ALE N(epsilon)-(carboxymethyl)lysine during reaction of GO and GLA with bovine serum albumin. Our data suggest that the AGE/ALE inhibitory activity and the therapeutic effects of PM observed in diabetic animal models depend, at least in part, on its ability to trap reactive carbonyl intermediates in AGE/ALE formation, thereby inhibiting the chemical modification of tissue proteins.