Retinol dehydrogenase 12 (RDH12) is a novel member of the short-chain dehydrogenase/reductase superfamily of proteins that was recently linked to Leber's congenital amaurosis 3 (LCA). We report the first biochemical characterization of purified human RDH12 and analysis of its expression in human tissues. RDH12 exhibits ∼2000-fold lower Km values for NADP + and NADPH than for NAD+ and NADH and recognizes both retinoids and lipid peroxidation products (C9 aldehydes) as substrates. The kcat values of RDH12 for retinaldehydes and C 9 aldehydes are similar, but the Km values are, in general, lower for retinoids. The enzyme exhibits the highest catalytic efficiency for all-trans-retinal (kcat/Km ∼900 min-1 μM-1), followed by 11-cis-retinal (450 min -1 mM-1) and 9-cis-retinal (100 min-1 mM -1). Analysis of RDH12 activity toward retinoids in the presence of cellular retinol-binding protein (CRBP) type I or cellular retinaldehyde-binding protein (CRALBP) suggests that RDH12 utilizes the unbound forms of all-trans- and 11-cis-retinoids. As a result, the widely expressed CRBPI, which binds all-trans-retinol with much higher affinity than all-trans-retinaldehyde, restricts the oxidation of all-trans-retinol by RDH12, but has little effect on the reduction of all-trans-retinaldehyde, and CRALBP inhibits the reduction of 11-cis-retinal stronger than the oxidation of 11-cis-retinol, in accord with its higher affinity for 11-cis-retinal. Together, the tissue distribution of RDH12 and its catalytic properties suggest that, in most tissues, RDH12 primarily contributes to the reduction of all-trans-retinaldehyde; however, at saturating concentrations of peroxidic aldehydes in the cells undergoing oxidative stress, for example, photoreceptors, RDH12 might also play a role in detoxification of lipid peroxidation products. © 2005 American Chemical Society.