Recent confirmation that the toxic unsaturated aldehyde crotonaldehyde (CA) contributes to protein damage during lipid peroxidation confers interest on the molecular actions of this substance. However, since a plethora of structurally related aldehydes form during membrane oxidation, clarifying the toxicological significance of individual products (e.g., CA) is challenging. To facilitate study of the mechanisms underlying CA toxicity, we explored the possibility that it can be formed enzymatically from an unsaturated precursor, crotyl alcohol. This is analogous to the way allyl alcohol is converted in vivo to its toxic oxidation product, acrolein. In kinetic studies, we found that crotyl alcohol was readily oxidized by equine liver alcohol dehydrogenase, with electrospray-mass spectrometry confirming that CA was the main product formed. Moreover, in mouse hepatocytes, crotyl alcohol produced marked time- and concentration-dependent cell killing as well as pronounced glutathione depletion. Both cytotoxicity and glutathione loss were abolished by the alcohol dehydrogenase inhibitor 4-methylpyrazole, indicating an oxidation product mediated these effects. In keeping with expectations that carbonyl-retaining Michael addition adducts would feature prominently during protein modification by CA, exposure to crotyl alcohol resulted in marked carbonylation of a wide range of cell proteins, an effect that was also abolished by 4-methylpyrazole. Damage to a subset of small proteins (e.g., 29, 32, 33 kDa) closely correlated with the severity of cell death. Collectively, these results demonstrate that crotyl alcohol is a useful tool for studying the biochemical and molecular events accompanying intracellular CA formation.