Mutations in human Retinol Dehydrogenase 12 (RDH12) are known to cause photoreceptor cell death but the physiological function of RDH12 in photoreceptors remains poorly understood. In vitro, RDH12 recognizes both retinoids and medium-chain aldehydes as substrates. Our previous study suggested that RDH12 protects cells against toxic levels of retinaldehyde and retinoic acid [S.A. Lee, O.V. Belyaeva, I.K. Popov, N.Y. Kedishvili, Overproduction of bioactive retinoic acid in cells expressing disease-associated mutants of retinol dehydrogenase 12, J. Biol. Chem. 282 (2007) 35621-35628]. Here, we investigated whether RDH12 can also protect cells against highly reactive medium-chain aldehydes. Analysis of cell survival demonstrated that RDH12 was protective against nonanal but not against 4-hydroxynonenal. At high concentrations, nonanal inhibited the activity of RDH12 towards retinaldehyde, suggesting that nonanal was metabolized by RDH12. 4-Hydroxynonenal did not inhibit the RDH12 retinaldehyde reductase activity, but it strongly inhibited the activities of lecithin:retinol acyl transferase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, resulting in decreased levels of retinyl esters and retinoic acid and accumulation of unesterified retinol. Thus, the results of this study showed that RDH12 is more effective in protection against retinaldehyde than against medium-chain aldehydes, and that medium-chain aldehydes, especially 4-hydroxynonenal, severely disrupt cellular retinoid homeostasis. Together, these findings provide a new insight into the effects of lipid peroxidation products and the impact of oxidative stress on retinoid metabolism. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.