Oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) lipid is thought to represent the initial step in a series of oxidative modification reactions that ultimately transform this lipoprotein into an atherogenic high-uptake form that can cause lipid accumulation in cells. We have studied the effects of hypochlorite, a powerful oxidant released by activated monocytes and neutrophils, on isolated LDL. Exposure of LDL to reagent hypochlorite (NaOCl) at 4°C resulted in immediate and preferential oxidation of amino acid residues of apoprotein B-100, the single protein associated with LDL. Neither lipoprotein lipid nor LDL-ssociated antioxidants, except ubiquinol-10, represented major targets for this oxidant. Even when high concentrations of NaOCl were used, only low levels of lipid hydroperoxides could be detected with the highly sensitive h.p.l.c. post-column chemiluminescence detection method. Lysine residues of apoprotein B-100 quantitatively represented the major target, scavenging some 68% of the NaOCl added, with tryptophan and cysteine together accounting for an additional 10% of the oxidant. Concomitant with the loss of LDL's amino groups, chloramines were formed and the anionic surface charge of the lipoprotein particle increased, indicated by a 3-4-fold increase in electrophoretic mobility above that of native LDL on agarose gels. While both these changes could be initially reversed by physiological reductants such as ascorbic acid and methionine, incubation of the NaOCl-modified LDL at 37°C resulted in increasing resistance of the modified lysine residues against reductive reversal. Exposure of mouse peritoneal macrophages to NaOCl-oxidized LDL resulted in increased intracellular concentrations of cholesterol and cholesteryl esters. These findings suggest that lipid-soluble antioxidants associated with LDL do not efficiently protect the lipoprotein against oxidative damage mediated by hypochlorite, and that extensive lipid oxidation is not a necessary requirement for oxidative LDL modification that leads to a high-uptake form of the lipoprotein.