1,4-Dicarbonyl compounds, which include 2,5-hexanedione and recently discovered endogenous 4-ketoaldehydes (levuglandins, isoketals, and neuroketals), exhibit severe toxicity. The key step in the toxicity of these compounds is their reaction with the lysyl residues of proteins to form pyrrole adducts. To screen for effective scavengers of these toxic compounds, we determined the reaction rates of pyrrole formation for a series of primary amines with a model 4-ketoaldehyde, 4-oxopentanal (OPA). We found pyridoxamine (PM) to react extremely rapidly, with a second-order rate constant at physiological pH being approximately 2300 times faster than that of Nalpha-acetyllysine. The extreme reactivity of PM was unique to 1,4-dicarbonyls, as its reactions with methylglyoxal and 4-hydroxy-2(E)-nonenal were much slower and only slightly faster than with Nalpha-acetyllysine. The phenolic group of PM was found to be essential to its high reactivity, and the rate constant for pyrrole formation with OPA exhibited a maximum at pH 7.5, close to the second pKa of PM. We therefore propose a mechanism involving transfer of the phenolic proton to the carbonyl of the initially formed hemiacetal, which facilitates subsequent nucleophilic attack and ring closure. Only 1,4-dicarbonyls are likely to participate in the proposed mechanism, thereby conferring unique sensitivity of this class of compounds to scavenging by PM.